Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former Prime Minister said there is “no safety issue” in giving potential coronavirus treatments that are safe and meet a minimum level of efficacy to all patients in need. Mr Blair said that, rather than offering therapeutic drugs “only to those in the Recovery trial”, co-ordinated by the University of Oxford, any “hospitalised patients at risk of serious illness” should be offered drugs that are safe.
Asked whether he was suggesting doctors should start “injecting people”, he replied: “What I’m suggesting is you’ve got to interrogate this with the regulators and with the company.
“If you can be sure it is 40 to 50 percent effective, get it deployed now.
“Because if it is, by the way, it will save many lives.
“Now, it’s probably north of that, it’s probably 60 to 70 percent effective.
“My point is don’t just leave this to the normal process, interrogate it because if you do get to the point where you know that it’s at least reasonably effective, there’s no point in waiting to see whether it’s actually 60 or 70 percent effective, because even if it’s 40 percent effective, it’s definitely worth having.
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“It’s important people understand that when we talk about the percentage of effectiveness, that doesn’t mean it works on 40 or 50 percent of people.
“It means it reduces the severity by 40 to 50 percent.
“But even that is worth having.
“And even if you don’t do this right now, at the moment we should be setting the vaccine registration system and starting to enrol people for when the vaccine will be available.
“So start for example with the frontline healthcare workers and then work your way through the most vulnerable parts of the population.”
However, Professor Adam Finn of the University of Bristol said: “I think it would be useful to point out to Mr Blair and those reading his proposals that the only sound way to work out whether a specific treatment is safe and effective is by doing randomised controlled trials similar to the Recovery trial.
“Simply giving drugs to patients and watching to see what happens does not tell you whether or not they work because you have nothing to compare them with.
“Likewise, you cannot tell whether there is a ‘safety issue’ in any particular group of patients until you evaluate the therapy in question in a controlled randomised blinded trial that is free of bias.
“This is particularly important for novel therapies that have not been used previously to treat other conditions.
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“This is not the only politician this year to have expressed opinions regarding unproven therapies and doubtless not the last and there have been some prominent doctors behaving similarly too – but if we are to avoid harming people and wasting time and resources we need to do this properly.
“The statement conveys the urgency of the situation. Randomised trials like Recovery and Solidarity can deliver clear answers extremely fast as long as they are well organised and able to recruit large numbers of patients rapidly – and they both are.
“By contrast giving treatments open-label slows everything down by leading us up blind alleys while playing roulette with our patients’ lives. I hope this message is clear enough to help sort out this muddled thinking.”
Mr Blair also said that, while he was “optimistic” that by the spring there will be vaccines and therapeutic drugs which allow a return to “something like normal”, he was anxious about the coming months.