Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V cats Boris Johnson




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During the (increasingly regular) power cuts that deprive the family of Netflix for half an hour, or when the arguments about who finished the Bombay Mix abate long enough for a different topic of conversation to arise, I like to drop a contentious statement into the mixer and see where we end up. Different rooms usually. If it sticks, though, it’s great fun and it certainly kills the time until the telly crackles back into life and a new supply of salty snacks is found.

My go-to contentious statement these days is about Sputnik V, the Russian Covid-19 vaccine. You see, I’d have it, and I’ve been saying so for months in the teeth of scorn and derision from friends and family.

But why not? Russian science has given us, well, the original Sputnik obviously (for younger readers, it was a spaceship) but also the foam in your fire extinguisher, solar cells, television (the word itself as well as a decent chunk of the technology) and let’s not forget the space toilet. It’s parochial and patronising to think that our sainted scientists can cook up a vaccine and theirs can’t, just as it’s bonkers to buy into that whole nanobots-in-the-serum shtick (leave that nonsense to Piers Corbyn and his fellow travellers). Oxford AstraZeneca, sir, or Sputnik V? In terms of branding, the Russian concoction kicks ass too.

Now, I’m not seeking to praise Putin or the kleptocracy he oversees and no, I won’t gloss over certain other Russian innovations which have been of absolutely no use to humanity. Novichok and the AK-47 spring to mind. But all along I have been mystified by the antipathy towards Sputnik V in the West. We hear a lot about vaccine nationalism, but what about vaccine xenophobia?

I have family members in the Middle East who were offered (and gratefully accepted) the Chinese vaccine. Sure, they were allowing themselves to be co-opted by the soft power of a country whose interests and values are often antithetical to those of the UK and yes, the same could be true of the Russian vaccine.

But in the teeth of a global health emergency, does it matter? And if we’re happy for Chinese and Russian vaccines to be used in the developing world, shouldn’t we be as happy to have those vaccines in our own bodies?

So, I’m pleased to see a growing acceptance of the Russian vaccine, which by the way has a 92% efficacy. Earlier this month The Lancet pronounced Sputnik V “safe and effective” and last week Pakistan approved it for emergency use. This is a country of 216 million which has built its own nuclear programme, so don’t tell me they don’t know what they’re doing.

The day after The Lancet’s findings were published the Spanish government said it was open to using Sputnik V as long as the European Medicines Agency gives its approval. Argentine president Alberto Fernandez was vaccinated with Sputnik V in late January, and his country is one of many to have ordered supplies. European Union member Serbia, currently vaccinating its population at double the rate of Germany, France and Italy, is using Russian, Chinese and American vaccines. “For us, vaccination is not a geopolitical matter,” said its prime minister Ana Brnabic. “It is a healthcare issue.” Fellow EU member Hungary has approved Sputnik V and South Africa is set to receive 20 million doses. That country, you may recall, halted the rollout of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns about its ability to combat the dominant variant there.

Will the EU’s big beasts soon be going cap in hand to the Russians? Watch this spaceski.

Feline silly

It was only a matter of time before the defining cultural emblem of our digital age – I mean the cat video, obviously – mutated into a new variant after coming into contact with the defining digital platform of the pandemic era: Zoom, the video-conferencing website.

Ground Zero was not a wet market in Wuhan but the even more unlikely surrounds of a virtual court room in the 394th Judicial District of Texas. That was where a man – let’s call him Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton, because that’s his name and title – became stuck inside a kitten filter (ask your kids) during a recent hearing with Judge Roy Ferguson and two other lawyers.

What followed went a little something like this: “Can you hear me, judge?” asks the talking kitten, which for the benefit of those reading in black and white is a sort of creamy-grey colour and very, very cute.

“I can hear you,” Judge Roy replies. “I think it’s a filter …”

“It is and I don’t know how to remove it,” says the talking kitten. “I’ve got my assistant here, she’s trying to … but, er, I’m prepared to go forward with it. I’m here live. I’m not a cat.”

“Er, I can see that,” says Judge Roy.

The internet was broken for a while as a result of the general hilarity that ensued. I’m told it’s now fixed and both Zoom (and Netflix) are working again. Rod Ponton will now become an internet meme until something funnier happens and everyone forgets him. Such is fame in the 2020s.

Space race

Forget whatever stock tips emerge from the now-notorious Reddit forum WallStreetBets – if you really want to invest your money, join the celebrity club of meteorite collectors. An online auction of meteorite fragments at Christie’s in New York this month offers buyers the chance to pay four and five-figure sums for items such as the two-inch-high lump which was pulled out of the neck of a cow in Venezuela in October 1972. It’s still the only known instance of death by meteorite (the cow was cooked and eaten and the lump used initially as a doorstop).

That one has a reserve price of $4,000 (£2,891) though if a previous sale is anything to go by it could go for three times that, which means the ultra-rare Oriented Stone found in the Sahara Desert, which has an estimate of $80,000 (£57,000), could go for six figures. Among the celebrity collectors pushing up prices are Elon Musk, Steven Spielberg, Nicolas Cage and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Some will be keeping a weather eye on the sale though they may have stiff competition in the form of Indian multi-millionaire Naveen Jain. He has the world’s largest private meteorite collection, said to be worth around £3.6 million.

Rude boy

What do you give the person who has everything (including a meteorite)? I’d have thought the answer was obvious, but if not it’s a Boris Johnson Is A C*** colouring book.

Yes, such a thing exists. Yes, they are flying off whatever passes for a shelf in the digital newsagent. “Sales are going very well, but I suppose that’s no surprise,” says Lee Brickley, whose baby it isn’t – that honour belongs to artist Gavin Stevens – but who is involved in a promotional push which he hopes will deliver Mr Stevens’s work into the arms of everyone over the age of 50 by May (or is that the Covid-19 vaccine? I’m stuck in a kitten filter and confused).

Certainly the customers who have so far stumped up £7.99 for a copy seem happy. My favourite review, courtesy of an M Sullivan, runs like this: “Filling in the colours really calms the nerves after you’ve watched him deliver his latest cacophony of taxpayer embezzling, sanctimonious tripe from his gilded tower of opulent entitlement. Can we have a Michael Gove one next?”.

To which the only honest answer is: yes please. My pink Sharpie is already poised, my glitter pen likewise.

Note to lawyer: does this piece need a trigger warning?


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