Could Britain be sued for reopening and putting the world at risk from new COVID variants?


GettyImages

Kris Gledhill, Auckland University of TechnologyWith most COVID-19 restrictions now lifted in England, the world is watching to see what this so-called “freedom day” will bring.

Some scepticism is warranted, given Britain’s approach throughout the pandemic has hardly been a success. By July 19, there had been 128,985 deaths from COVID-19, and the death rate per million of population was just under 1,900.

True, there are countries with worse rates, including Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic in Europe. But countries that have taken a different approach have vastly better figures: for example, 35.8 deaths per million of population in Australia, and 5.39 in New Zealand.

No doubt Boris Johnson’s government took its emphatic 2019 election victory and relatively successful vaccination program as a mandate for opening up.

But the current situation doesn’t support such optimism. Infection rates are now the worst in Europe and the death rate is climbing. By contrast, Australia has much lower death and infection rates but state authorities have responded with lockdowns.

Furthermore, many scientists have condemned the opening-up policy. The authors of the John Snow Memorandum stress the risks to the 17 million people in the UK who have not been vaccinated, and state:

[This approach] provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants. This would place all at risk, including those already vaccinated, within the UK and globally.

Taking the UK to court

Is it enough to hope Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will not just dismiss these concerns as piffle? Perhaps there is an alternative — taking the UK to court. Specifically, to the international courts that deal with matters of human rights.

For countries in the Council of Europe, this would be the European Court of Human Rights. Globally, there is the option of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations.

How would this work? A court claim requires what lawyers call a “cause of action” — in this case, a breach of human rights, including the right to life and the right not to be subject to inhuman and degrading treatment.




Read more:
July 19 ‘Freedom Day’: Boris Johnson’s biggest gamble is trusting the public


In the main international human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), article 6 requires that the right to life, which belongs to everyone, must be protected. Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) says the same.

In 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee noted this right to life amounts to an “entitlement […] to be free from acts and omissions that are intended or may be expected to cause their unnatural or premature death”.

It also noted the obligation on states to take steps to counter life-threatening diseases.

A duty to protect

European Court of Human Rights case law establishes that the duty to protect life includes a requirement on states to take reasonable steps if they know (or ought to know) there is a real and immediate risk to life.

This has usually involved the criminal actions of dangerous people, but there is no reason it should not cover government policy that rests on an acceptance that people will die.

After all, the entire human rights framework was put in place to limit states from breaching rights.




Read more:
No, we can’t treat COVID-19 like the flu. We have to consider the lasting health problems it causes


This duty to protect applies not just to deaths. Both the ICCPR and the ECHR have absolute prohibitions on inhuman and degrading treatment. For many people, the severity of COVID-19, including the consequences of long COVID, meet this standard.

If government policy can mitigate such consequences, human rights standards mandate that it should.

In short, this is not just a matter of the right to health. Because the UK will likely allow the virus to spread from its shores, the rest of the world is at risk and therefore has an interest here. So can other countries take action?

A political calculation

Human rights conventions are treaties — promises by states to each other as to how they will act. Article 33 of the ECHR is very clear: states can ask the European Court of Human Rights to adjudicate whether another state is breaching rights. There are many instances of this happening.

Importantly, the court can issue “interim measures” under its procedural rules to preserve the status quo while it hears a case.




Read more:
The UK’s speedy COVID-19 vaccine rollout: surprise success or planned perfection?


The UN Human Rights Committee may also consider state-to-state complaints under article 41 of the ICCPR if a state has agreed to this — and the UK has made the relevant declaration.

Of course, any decision by a state to take another to court is political. But this pandemic is not just a health issue, it is also a matter of life and death. Protecting life should be a political priority precisely because it is such a fundamental right.

Politicians willing to stand up for human rights should use the tools that exist to achieve that aim.The Conversation

Kris Gledhill, Professor of Law, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Global


Coronavirus Update: Global


AstraZeneca’s blood clot risk is incredibly small. Australia shouldn’t follow the UK’s lead of offering under 30s another vaccine


Nathan Bartlett, University of NewcastleAuthorities in the United Kingdom overnight recommended people under 30 be offered an alternative COVID vaccine to the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot.

The recommendation came after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) found a “possible link” between the vaccine and blood clots. The EMA also said blood clots should be listed as a “very rare” side effect of the vaccine.

It’s important to note there’s still no conclusive evidence the vaccine is causing the clots, as so few have been reported. However, evidence there is a link is increasing, which has prompted more focused monitoring.

The benefits of getting a COVID vaccine still far outweigh the risks. I would still be encouraging everyone to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this morning “there’s nothing to suggest at this stage that there would be any change” to Australia’s current rollout strategy. The Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation are currently reviewing the data and latest advice from Europe and the UK.

What’s causing these clots?

Blood clotting events linked to vaccination are being called “vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia” (VIPIT).

In these rare instances, clots are forming in a patient’s blood, and not just in veins but in arteries and other rare locations like the brain and abdomen. This is also paired with low platelet counts (cells needed for the blood to clot).




Read more:
What is thrombocytopenia, the rare blood condition possibly linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine?


It appears, in these instances, the body’s response to the vaccine is triggering an “off target” immune response that is attacking platelets. Limited data that is yet to be peer reviewed suggests antibodies targeting platelets cause them to become activated and trigger clotting. This autoimmune response also targets the platelets for destruction, reducing their level in the blood. So platelets are either tied up in clots or are eliminated. Both processes contribute to “thrombocytopenia” (low blood platelet count).

Like infections, vaccines trigger an immune response, so when receiving any shot that stimulates a robust immune response there’s a small but real risk your immune system will generate “off target” effects. In these rare instances, these effects can lead to autoimmunity, which is an immune response that attacks your own cells.

All vaccines and medications come with small risks

The numbers of clots reported after the AstraZeneca are very small, so we don’t exactly know how common they are. But they appear to occur at a rate between one in 25,000 and one in 500,000.

The UK’s vaccine advisory board said there were 79 cases of blood clotting issues among more than 20 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine. That’s a chance of about 0.0004%, or one in 250,000.

Researchers haven’t yet identified any specific risk factors so far for the development of blood clots following COVID vaccination. We need to understand as quickly as possible what these are if indeed a causal link is established.

Some have suggested there could be a link with women taking the contraceptive pill having a higher risk of blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. But there’s no evidence for this at all. As far as I know, information on whether women receiving the vaccine are taking the contraceptive pill isn’t captured. Perhaps it’s something to consider going forward.

Young people don’t appear to be at particularly higher risk of blood clots linked to the vaccine. The publicised cases of blood clots have occurred in mostly women under 60 years of age.

Australia shouldn’t follow the UK’s new recommendation

One reason the UK is able to advise younger people to receive other vaccines is because it has other vaccine options, including the Pfizer and Moderna shots. Offering the under 30s an alternative vaccine isn’t really going to hinder the rollout, which is going very well in the UK.

But this isn’t the case in Australia. The AstraZeneca shot is the only one we have guaranteed supply of, given CSL is producing it in Melbourne.

It’s important to remember the AstraZeneca vaccine is a very safe and effective vaccine. It’s also easier to store and distribute than the Pfizer vaccine.

The priority is vaccinating as many people as possible and quickly

It’s important to note we’re in uncharted territory. This is the first time in modern history we’ve been in a situation where we’ve needed to roll out a vaccine to deal with a pandemic.

We’re also using new vaccine technologies that we’ve had to expedite to try and get on top of this virus as soon as possible. These new technologies, including AstraZeneca’s, have never been tested at this immense scale until now.

There are a lot of unknowns, but certainly the scale in which were doing this means we’re going to see very rare adverse events linked to these vaccines.

At this stage the priority is still to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

My primary concern is ongoing high levels of transmission across the world. The more cases there are, and longer we delay vaccinating people, the higher the likelihood is of new variants of the virus emerging.




Read more:
UK, South African, Brazilian: a virologist explains each COVID variant and what they mean for the pandemic


Even though we have very low COVID-19 case numbers in Australia currently, we’ve seen regular outbreaks stemming from hotel quarantine. We can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future. The longer the virus is waiting at our doorstep, the greater the risk we’ll have another outbreak and end up in lockdown and much worse — and nobody wants that.The Conversation

Nathan Bartlett, Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.