Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:23 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge 6:23 pm, 18th November 2020

The announcement of the preliminary results of the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna covid vaccines is great news, a ray of hope at a time when we are tired, weary and going through a second lockdown. There are still many questions, but the direction of travel is a good one.

I will talk in a moment about the many challenges ahead, but before then I want to point out that this Government are unrivalled in their support of research and innovation. They have led the world in funding and promoting efforts to find treatments and vaccines, and it is this Government who are already laying down plans to deploy a vaccine. After further analysis and the results from the vaccine trials come good, it will still take some time until we are on the other side of this. Depending who you listen to, life can be back to normal by spring, by summer, by winter, by next year. We simply cannot yet know, and while now we have reason to be optimistic, none of this helps those struggling now.

Lockdowns are incredibly damaging and the lockdown itself will have a cost in lives in the future. We need to think where we will be after six months more of this. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies does not consider the economic impact of its recommendations, which is a substantial limitation. The economic impact will cost lives through diseases generated through poverty. Our public services are built on the back of a strong economy.  Economic damage means less money to invest in medical care and treatment, in community services and in education, again with a cost in lives and quality of life.

Decisions are being made on epidemiological scientific information alone. Although we have been able to see interpreted data—I thank the Government for making experts available—we have been unable to interrogate SAGE and the modellers directly or to see economic impact assessments. The Government’s decision making is rightly based on the science. As any scientist knows, scientists disagree all the time. We need to be able to hold Ministers to account and to interrogate the scientists advising them.

I therefore support calls for a covid commission to take an overall view of all the features of the covid response, but again, that does not help those affected now. We will need to make more difficult decisions over the next few weeks. Lockdowns and restrictions, like all interventions, are a tool—one that has great side effects but, deployed cautiously when necessary, can prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. Just like in any discussion about a potential treatment with a doctor, before someone consents, they need to know the risks and benefits. That is why we must see clearly the projected harms and benefits before we make any decision.

We are told that there is no alternative, but with potential vaccines around the corner, we will be living with covid and its impact for some time. We cannot simply ask those who are struggling to wait just a bit more, just a bit more, just a bit more, so we need to have now an enduring plan to live with the virus.