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What a week. This week’s links are a bit of a mood rollercoaster, because well [waves hands frantically at all of this going on around us]. Honestly, my son is seven months old. He’s now lived through a two strict national lockdowns in response to a rampaging global pandemic, the development and deployment of effective vaccines in a handful of rich countries while the poor are left hanging, escalating humanitarian disasters in Brazil, India and – unrelated to the pandemic – Yemen, the storming of the Capital by a man wearing horns and runic tattoos, the near-death of football and the Home Office somehow discovering new moral depths to plumb. I hope things slow down from here, so, once he’s old enough to read it, he can step back from the chaos of the daily to appreciate the grand sweep of progress Charles Kenny documents in his new book for middle-schoolers, Your World, Better.
Let’s start with the downer. Things might be brighter in the UK – cases down, vaccines rolling out, spring finally tentatively poking its head out from behind winter – but make no mistake. The pandemic is worse now than ever. This brilliant, coruscating piece by my colleagues Amanda Glassman and Rachel Silverman gets the mood music right. Right now, every single place approaching normality is guilty of a massive moral failure. Get the vaccines out – everywhere. Donate treatments – everywhere. Start coordinating – everyone. Vaccine hoarding, export bans – make no mistake, these are killing people in the rest of the world, just as surely as a bomb would. And we don’t even have to be altruistic to do this – how many mutations, how many infection risks can we forestall by acting more quickly to help in the worst affected corners of the globe? The Economist has a good take on the complexity of Africa’s vaccination drive – with some places running out fast, and others not even using all their doses. So this isn’t simple. But nor is it beyond the wit of the international community. Like Amanda an Rachel say, there’s only one job right now, and we’re not doing it.
It’s not all awful news though: in what must be the most promising breakthrough for human welfare in as long as I can remember (and yes, I include the covid vaccines here), the Jenner Institute has developed a vaccine against malaria that clears the WHO’s 75% efficacy threshold. This is massive – as Berk says, many researchers who devoted their lives to this had given up hope that it was possible, and the stakes just couldn’t be much higher. Malaria infects hundreds of millions of people every year, kills around half a million people annually, and it’s by far most deadly among the youngest, those under 5 – the OWID explainer is worth reading in full. I said it on twitter, but we may as well start carving names on the Nobel prize. If this isn’t a mirage, it’s a complete game changer.
I recently speculated that when dealing with risks of death, people seem to engage in a kind of mental accounting whereby they put risks from different activities in separate buckets and assess them independently, even when they have direct bearing on each other – hence people being scared of vaccine blood clots even when the risk of death is many multiples smaller than that of dying from Covid if unvaccinated. Tim Harford has a slightly different take on the same phenomenon, considering how different risks engage emotions and the illusion of control.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.