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Beyond Science, The COVID-19 Vaccine Is A Question Of Trust

The halting of AstraZeneca's vaccine trial is not only a reminder of the challenge of finding a cure, but will feed growing public mistrust of states and scientists.

Anti vaxxer during a protest in the U.S.
Anti vaxxer during a protest in the U.S.
Etienne Lefebvre

PARIS — It was a prickly reality check. We learned yesterday that the clinical trial conducted by AstraZeneca to find a vaccine against COVID-19 was put on hold. The incident, altogether quite common in the scientific world, has cast a chill across an entire world hoping for a quick miracle cure to contain the virus.

The race for a vaccine is bound to follow a tortuous path. The scale of the resources committed around the world might offer hope — the European Union, for example, has just initiated a sixth pre-order for vaccines. But for now, nothing is settled either on the effectiveness of the treatments or on the required deadlines. We will therefore have to go on for months without a cure. And to take decisions regarding our health as if there was no imminent vaccine.

During this time of global uncertainty, there is a great risk of seeing a new increase in scientific controversies, after those regarding the efficiency of masks or hydroxychloroquine. These controversies will be fueled by the states themselves.

Mistrust is widespread, as the low rate of flu vaccinations demonstrates.

Vladimir Putin set the tone by turning the Russian vaccine project into a political weapon. Beijing is posed to ambush and Donald Trump is closely following the Russian president, putting strong pressure on U.S. health authorities so that a treatment is approved before November's presidential election. All of that with the risk of promoting vaccines with limited efficiency. A rare occurrence: in a joint statement, the heads of nine pharmaceutical groups have just raised the alarm regarding any hasty approval of a new vaccine.

All this will not help to reverse the already declining trust of the population in vaccines. The evolution of opinion is worrying across the Atlantic, but also in France. The latest polls show that the French would rank among the world's populations most reluctant to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if such treatment were available. It's a shame in a country that has historically been at the forefront on scientific research.

""Say no to mandatory vaccines'" in the UK — Photo: Joel Goodman/London News Pictures/ZUMA

Convincing the entire population to be vaccinated will not be the first priority though. Due to limited time and availability, it will be necessary to start by vaccinating people who are deemed ‘at risk": health workers, the elderly and/or people suffering from certain pathologies, and so on. But even among these groups, mistrust is widespread, as the low rate of flu vaccinations among nursing staff in hospitals and nursing homes shows.

Indeed, the flu vaccination campaign that is starting will thus serve as a test, as France has ordered a larger number of doses, with the aim of limiting those who catch the flu to avoid additional pressure on its health system. Any initiatives facilitating these campaigns — such as vaccination by pharmacists, which is yielding results — will be welcome. Just like respecting social distancing, vaccination is not just an act of individual protection, but one with even greater collective benefits.

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Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGOTikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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