– in the House of Commons at 12:41 pm on 8th December 2020.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will make a statement on the covid-19 vaccine roll-out.
At 6.31 this morning, 90 year-old Margaret Keenan from Enniskillen, who lives in Coventry, became the first person in the world to receive a clinically authorised vaccine for covid-19. This marks the start of the NHS’s Herculean task to deploy vaccine right across the UK, in line with its founding mission to support people according to clinical need, not ability to pay. This simple act of vaccination is a tribute to scientific endeavour, human ingenuity and the hard work of so many people. Today marks the start of the fight back against our common enemy, coronavirus.
While today is a day to celebrate, there is much work to be done. We must all play our part in suppressing the virus until the vaccine can make us safe and we can all play our part supporting the NHS to deliver the vaccine across the country. This is a task with huge logistical challenges, including the need to store the vaccine at ultra-low temperatures and the clinical need for each person to receive two doses 21 days apart. I know that the NHS will be equal to the task. I am sure we will do everything we can—everything that is humanly possible—to make sure that the NHS has whatever help it needs.
The first 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are already here in locations around the UK and the next consignment is scheduled to arrive next week. This week, we will vaccinate from hospitals across the UK. From next week, we will expand deployment to start vaccinations by GPs and we will vaccinate in care homes by Christmas. As more vaccines come on stream in the new year, we will open vaccination centres in larger venues, such as sports stadiums and conference halls.
People do not need to apply. The NHS will get in touch at the appropriate time and, when that time comes, we have one clear request: please step forward for your country.
I want to thank all those involved—the international team of scientists; the globally respected regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency; Public Health England; the vaccines taskforce; all the volunteers who took part in the trial; all those who have come forward for vaccination so far; and all those who will do so in future. Months of trials involving thousands of people have shown that this vaccine works and is safe. By coming forward, you are taking the best possible step to protect yourself and your loved ones, and to protect the NHS.
Help is on its way and the end is in sight—not just of this terrible pandemic but of the onerous restrictions that have made this year so hard for so many—but even while we can now see the route out, there is still a long march ahead. Let us not blow it now. There are worrying signs of the virus growing in some parts of the country, including parts of Essex, London and Kent. Over the coming weeks and months, we must all keep following the rules to keep people safe and make sure we can get through this safely together.
The pictures today of 90-year-old Margaret Keenan receiving her vaccine, given by May Parsons, a nurse originally from the Philippines, is a wonderful moment bringing home to all of us that there is now light at the end of this very long tunnel. We are all beaming with pride for our NHS today. Let me put on record my thanks to all our NHS staff working so hard today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks months in administering these jabs. I again pay tribute to all our medical scientists, clinical researchers, regulators and trial participants who have made today happen. We should applaud them on our doorsteps.
I want to put a number of specific questions to the Secretary of State. May I ask him about those areas that do not yet have a designated hospital hub? My city, Leicester, has effectively never really left lockdown, impacting hugely on the wellbeing of our people and the economic prospects of our city. We are a diverse city with a high proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who we know are more at risk from the virus. My constituents, Leicester University and the Leicester leadership are all deeply disappointed not to see Leicester on the hospital hub list. I have been lobbying the NHS about this in the past 48 hours, and people in Leicester will get vaccinated, but can he say when areas like Leicester and other areas currently without a hospital hub will get one? When will local primary care network hubs be announced, and when will the mass vaccination centres’ locations be announced? Can he assure us that all vaccination centres and communications will be accessible for those with disabilities and that staff will be appropriately trained?
On care homes, I am grateful for the update the Secretary of State gave us when he mentioned Christmas. Does he anticipate that all care homes will have access to the vaccine by Christmas?
Of course we have to vaccinate NHS staff—that is really important. Can he confirm that that includes student nurses, medical students, physiotherapy students and so on? What plans are in place to ensure that harder to reach groups—such as the homeless, for example—have access to the vaccine?
The Secretary of State has presumably seen the reports today in the Health Service Journal that £567 million of requested funding for covid projects was turned down. Can he guarantee that the NHS will get all the resources it requests to ensure the smooth and rapid roll-out of the vaccine?
The Secretary of State indicated in the newspapers at the weekend that the tiers could be loosened by March if uptake is successful. In the same way that we receive daily published figures on case numbers and tests processed, could we receive daily updates on vaccination doses administered, and could it be by priority cohort?
Finally, what are the plans to tackle anti-vax harm online? I have literally just been sent a WhatsApp video claiming that this is all a global plot to change our DNA. We know that harmful content circulates on Facebook and other platforms. This is garbage: how can we deal with it?
This is indeed a momentous day, and we can all look forward to a much better 2021.
That is right—we can all look forward to a much brighter 2021. We must stick with it for now, but we can see the way through this.
The hon. Gentleman asked several very reasonable questions. We start today vaccinating in 70 locations across the UK, and we will expand these locations over the coming days. Today we will set out the next tranche of hospital hubs, including Leicester, and vaccinations in Leicester will start in the coming days.
On access to the vaccine, of course we need to make sure that it is available to all, and that includes all with disabilities and all our most vulnerable people, like those who are sleeping rough. This will be best accomplished when we get the primary care community vaccination model rolled out, which will be in the coming weeks. We need to make sure that how we get the vaccine physically out into the primary care networks can be assured as safe, because obviously that is one step more difficult than vaccinating from a hospital, hence we have started in hospitals and then we will get out into primary care and community delivery, and then into the vaccination centres after the new year.
The hon. Gentleman asked about NHS students. The definition of NHS and social care staff set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is those who are patient-facing, for obvious reasons. We will set out more details in due course.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the publication of data on the number of vaccines that have been administered, and according to which priority groups. We will set out those details when the vaccinations have taken place, so that people can see how the programme has been assessed. Overall, may I join him in saying how wonderful it was to see the pictures on the TV this morning—emotional for many of us—and that I am delighted that we have been able to make this progress?
Like many, I would like to congratulate our scientists; I would like to congratulate the Health and Social Care Secretary himself, the vaccines taskforce and NHS frontline staff, all of whom have made this extraordinary day for our country possible. It is very, very cold outside, and the question on many people’s minds is: are they now able to book a summer holiday? What is my right hon. Friend’s answer to that question, and is there anywhere in particular that he would recommend if the answer is yes?
It makes me very proud that we have managed to start this vaccination programme sooner than many people anticipated. People told me that it was not going to be possible and that it was all very difficult. It has been difficult, but we have got there, and we did so because of international science, working with German scientists and American pharmaceutical companies, and people right around the world working on this project. I have high confidence that the summer of 2021 will be a bright one, without the sorts of restrictions that made the summer of 2020 more restricted. I have booked my holiday—I am going to Cornwall.
The commencement of a safe and effective vaccination programme is extremely welcome, but recent studies have shown that as little as 54% of the UK population are certain to have the vaccination. There is a clear need to counter misinformation, whether online scare stories or jingoistic nonsense, so what extra steps will the Minister take to ensure public trust in the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and to encourage take-up? What assurance can he give that there will be fairness in access to the vaccine until it is widely available, and when does he think it will be available to anyone who wants it? During that period, will the UK Government commit to a similar strategy to that of the Scottish Government of pursuing the eventual elimination of the virus? With a vaccine now available, that is more possible than ever before.
It is only with a vaccine that we can finally defeat this virus and get life back to normal. This UK project has made huge strides forward, and I am very, very grateful to NHS Scotland for the work that it is doing right now in making sure that the vaccine can reach people across Scotland, as the NHS is doing in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. It is a big team effort, and it is because the UK vaccines taskforce was the first out of the blocks on buying the vaccine, along with the smart approach taken by the MHRA, that we have been able to get to this point before any other country.
The hon. Gentleman asked about fairness in access. Absolutely—fairness is critical, hence we will follow the clinical advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on priority, again, right across the UK. Finally, I agree strongly with him—Jonathan Ashworth also raised this, and I did not respond to it, so I shall now—that countering disinformation is incredibly important. That is best done with positive information and explaining objectively why and how the vaccine is safe. Something that we can all do in the House is talk positively about the benefits of the vaccine for keeping people safe and keeping their community safe. I pay tribute to all those who have been willing to come forward and talk in public, and I thank those who have already had the vaccine—since 6.30 this morning—and have been willing to tell their story publicly to help others have the confidence to do the right thing. Finally, surveys of the UK population show that we have one of the highest acceptances of taking the vaccine in the world. The numbers who are enthusiastic about it are rising at the moment, and we need to keep that going.
I echo the Secretary of State’s thanks to the MHRA for its tremendous work in ensuring that this vaccine is safe. I look forward to having my jab as soon as it is my turn, and I will encourage everybody I love to do the same. Earlier this week, we learned that Scunthorpe General Hospital was not among the first group of vaccination hubs. Can my right hon. Friend provide further clarity on how those hubs are allocated, and can he reassure me and my constituents in Scunthorpe, who are currently in tier 3, that we will receive the vaccine in the very near future?
Yes, absolutely. We have started at 70 hospitals across the UK. Those are the ones that are best able to deal with the difficult logistics of a vaccine that has to be stored at minus 70° C. I understand the desire for every hospital to get on that list, and we will publish a further list later today. My local hospital, the West Suffolk, is also not yet administering vaccines. The other critical part of this is the primary care networks—the community roll-out—which will get us to many, many more sites where people are able to access the vaccine, so that in Scunthorpe and across the whole of the UK, everybody is able to access this vaccine as fairly and safely as possible.
It is brilliant that the vaccine programme is beginning, but unfortunately, there are real question marks over who is benefiting from some of the covid-19 contracts. How will the Secretary of State ensure that cronyism and profiteering do not become features of this stage of the covid-19 response?
Thankfully, as the National Audit Office set out, they have not been a feature of any of the response to coronavirus, so that is good.
Those on the frontline normally face bullets, so my right hon. Friend and his entire team deserve the bouquets that they are receiving today. I am delighted that the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford is already dispensing the vaccine. Does he agree that one of the groups in greatest need who deserve it first are residents of care homes, who have faced such a miserable 2020?
Yes, I do, and I hope that we can get the vaccine out to residents of care homes as soon as is feasibly possible. They are in the top priority group clinically, and it is simply a question of how quickly we can operationalise getting the vaccine out to care homes. I hope that that can start before Christmas. I pay tribute to everybody working at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford this morning, administering vaccines already and helping to protect the lives of my right hon. Friend’s constituents.
May I start by saying what a joyful moment it was this morning to see those first vaccinations and thank everybody who has been involved in making this happen? I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s optimism about our summer holidays next year. However, I gently point out that we have seen setbacks from some of the manufacturers in terms of when the doses of vaccine will be delivered. With both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, it will apparently be 3 million doses arriving by the end of the year, rather than the 30 million that were originally forecast. Does he still think it is feasible that the most vulnerable will be vaccinated by the spring, and how many of those of us who are healthy under-50-year-olds might be vaccinated by the school summer holidays?
I understand why the hon. Lady and many others want to know what the speed of the roll-out will be. Because we are reliant on the manufacturing process, which is itself a difficult challenge, we cannot put figures on when the roll-out will be. We hope that we will be able to lift the measures by the spring, and we hope that we will all have a much more normal summer next year, but I do not want to put too much more detail on it than that, and I cannot put more in terms of the numbers, because there are so many contingencies. What we can be sure of, and what we can work and plan for, is the NHS being able to deliver the roll-out at the speed at which the manufacturers can manufacture.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for all he has done in his fight against the coronavirus, and may I thank the Department for this roll-out of the vaccine? It is actually a monumental step in our fight against the coronavirus—just in time for Christmas. It is the Christmas present we all wanted. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, because the UK was one of the first countries to secure the vaccine, we should be able to move more quickly out of local restrictions in the new year, as the vaccine is rolled out?
Well, I very much hope so, but there is some time between now and then, so we have got to temper our joy and enthusiasm at today’s announcement with the need to keep on keeping each other safe between now and then. Let us not blow it, since we can see that the answer is on the horizon.
I reiterate the point that my hon. Friend made about the team in the Department, because my civil servants and special advisers have been amazing during this year. They have worked so hard—seven days a week, often 18 hours a day—and they deserve enormous praise, because this is a team effort and nobody can do this sort of thing on their own.
First, could I say what a positive news story it was this morning when Margaret Keegan got her jab, followed by a fellow called William Shakespeare, which I thought was quite interesting? I thank the Secretary of State and all those who have made this happen, because it is really good news. Will the Secretary of State outline whether he has liaised with the Treasury to secure the funding needed to roll out this vaccine in the devolved nations, bearing in mind that we are behind on our flu vaccine roll-out and both cannot be carried out at the same time? Further, what discussions have taken place with the Secretary of State for Defence to provide trained military assistance in the devolved regions to make it happen?
This year, I have sometimes turned for inspiration to the bard:
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
So it was a delight and a coincidence to find that Mr William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon, a constituent of the vaccine roll-out Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi—by coincidence; Members should not get any ideas—was called forward to be the second person to be vaccinated by the NHS. It is absolutely terrific to see that people right across this United Kingdom are being vaccinated right now according to need, and I hope it can bring us all together.
Can I start by joining my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the scientists, clinicians, trial volunteers and many others who have made it all possible? They have given us the light at the end of the tunnel. We have to remember that there were no guarantees that we would get any vaccine; to have at least one is fantastic. I am glad to see a number of sites in the north-west have been allocated for the roll-out, but my constituents will probably be asking for and expecting somewhere closer to home—for example, at Leighton Hospital near Crewe and Nantwich. What are the plans for expanding the sites available for vaccination?
Yes, we will keep expanding the sites available. Of course, I understand why people want their local hospital to be dispensing the jab. Alongside hospitals and those vaccination centres, we will make sure that we have sites in the community, and we will get them going just as soon as it is safely possible.
This brilliant news, on which I also congratulate everyone, contrasts with the rather alarming revelations last night that we may be veering towards a no-deal Brexit. If that does occur, could the Secretary of State guarantee that there will be no disruption to the supply chains for all these different vaccines—AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer—and will he also rectify the rather Ealing-shaped hole in hospital provision in north-west London? We have 360,000 people, and we were No. 1 in London for cases recently, so that does need fixing.
There is very significant provision for vaccination in London. I will take up the specific point about Ealing, but London, thankfully, is a very well connected and interconnected city. To assure the hon. Member on the point about logistical disruption, we have five contingency plans in total to ensure that we can continue with the vaccination supply no matter the differing types of disruption.
I am delighted that Stepping Hill Hospital in my constituency will be part of this historic day as the coronavirus vaccine programme begins. Along with rapid testing, tracking and isolating, we aim to bring our covid rates down further, prior to the tier review next week. In welcoming this fantastic news, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must not lose sight of the importance of “Hands, face, space” as a key way to keep us virus-free while the vaccine is rolled out to the rest of the population?
Yes, my hon. Friend is completely right. We must all keep doing the basics—“Hands, face and space”, respecting the rules, and living carefully with personal responsibility, so as to minimise the chance of passing on the disease asymptomatically. We must keep doing that even while we have this great news of the vaccine which, as many have put it, is the light at the end of the tunnel.
This is a momentous day, and I look forward to receiving my vaccine when it is my turn. I thank those who are being vaccinated, those who took part in the trials, and all those who worked to make this happen. I understand that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has set a priority list for vaccines based on clinical vulnerability, but that has made people who were on the frontline of the crisis, including unpaid family carers, feel as if they are being ignored. Our immediate priority during this phase of vaccinations has to be reducing deaths, but once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, will the Secretary of State say whether unpaid carers will become a priority for vaccination?
The hon. Lady and I agree that clinical need must be the priority, and once we have reached all those with a significant clinical need, as set out by the JCVI, we will set the next stage of priorities in due course.
I, too, commend the titanic effort of all those involved in the creation, manufacturing and distribution of the covid-19 vaccine. As more and more of us are vaccinated against covid-19, will my right hon. Friend outline what plans there are to ease the most draconian measures across the tier system, so that people and businesses can sensibly return to normal?
While the vaccine rolls out, the best way to get any area down through the tiers is to continue to follow the restrictions that are, unfortunately, still absolutely necessary to keep people safe. Having said that, because we have a vaccine, the faster we can roll it out, the sooner we can get to the point where we get rid of the system altogether.
If I had not been on the call list for this urgent question, I would have been joining friends and colleagues of Leslie, to pay our final respects to a warm-hearted man who sadly lost his life to the virus. Thinking of his family, and what happened to him, brings home to all of us how urgent it is to get a vaccination programme up to speed as quickly as possible. That can happen only if a significant proportion of the population accept the vaccine. My hon. Friend Martyn Day has highlighted the dangers if too many people are taken in by the scare stories circulating on social media, and people can also be put off if they see politicians responding with too much bombast or jingoism to the start of the vaccination programme. May I commend the Secretary of State sincerely for the measured tone that he has adopted today? Will he encourage his ministerial colleagues to be similarly measured in any future pronouncements that they make about this important day in the battle against covid?
All of us in Government feel encouraged by today’s progress, but we are also determined and resolute to get through this in the safest way possible, and out into the brighter seas beyond, when we can get rid of the restrictions altogether. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about how important it is that we all keep that resolve, not least because of the example that he set out, and I send my commiserations and those of the Government to his constituent. Many of us have suffered loss during this pandemic, and we want it to be over as soon as we can. We must keep going until it is safe to do so.
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and the many people who got us to the heart-warming images that we saw this morning? A lot of the highest priority groups in my constituency live in more remote villages rather than in towns, and there are issues from transport connections to a fear of going out. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those factors that affect more remote locations are being included in the planning for the roll-out?
One hundred per cent. That is a very important point, and it is important right across the country, especially, if I may say so, in Scotland and Wales. We have the primary care network community roll-out, which aims to get the vaccine out into the community as close to where people live as possible.
The start of vaccinations is excellent news, and it is excellent news for my constituents that Aintree Hospital is one of the first in the country for the roll-out. The Health Secretary rightly said, “Let’s not blow it.” We still need to fix the gaps in contact tracing and in financial support for those who need to self-isolate. Only 11% of people are being contacted, according to the figures that I am getting, and we still need to learn from contact tracing in east Asia. Will he put resources into local public health teams, which are much better placed to fill those gaps, so that contact tracing plays its part while we wait for the roll-out of the vaccine across the country?
The hon. Gentleman is right in principle that contact tracing and the testing roll-out are still critical while the vaccine roll-out happens. I am glad to say that his reports of only 11% being contacted are not right; the figure is much higher than that. I am also really pleased that in the Liverpool city region, which includes his Sefton constituency, we are now rolling out community testing much more widely, with the support of local teams. I hope that he will help us all in putting a shoulder to the wheel in that effort.
I do not actually think it has happened by accident that we are the first country in the world to have approved this vaccine. We saw very emotive images today, and I make no apology for being proud of that. This is a proud day to be British. I would like to thank the NHS and all our wonderful scientists for being part of that, and the regulatory authority.
I was glad last year to hear—last year? A couple of days ago. [Laughter.] I was glad to hear that East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust is going to be one of the first to get the vaccine. Unfortunately, Ipswich currently does not have the facilities to store it. I am obviously keen for my vulnerable constituents to get access to that vaccine ASAP, so I just want to know what the plans are in the very short term, before any community roll-out, to make sure that Ipswich constituents can get access in Colchester, and for storage facilities in Ipswich Hospital to make sure that we can move forward.
My hon. Friend’s constituents will be able to access the vaccine in Colchester from now, and some will be being called forward. Like many others, he rightly asks for the vaccination roll-out to reach Ipswich itself, and it will reach Ipswich itself just as soon as we can get that sorted. I have a lot of sympathy with what he said about two days feeling like a year!
It is a great day for medicine, science and the population, but in response to my hon. Friend Nick Smith, the Secretary of State was somewhat dismissive of an important National Audit Office report that raised serious concerns about the letting of contracts in Government—contracts being published late; missing paperwork; the establishment of a high-priority lane, with one in 10 of those applying via that route awarded contracts; and an overall lack of transparency. As the NAO says, the lack of documentation of key decisions, including
“why particular suppliers were chosen”, is important. It is taxpayers’ money that is being spent. In relation to the vaccine roll-out, are private companies involved, and will the Secretary of State commit to being open and transparent and publishing the contracts and all the paperwork that goes with them?
Of course I will defend to the end the work that we did to get the PPE roll-out to which the hon. Lady refers. Of course we had priority contracts, because we wanted, when somebody had a good lead, to be able to see if we could make an arrangement as fast as possible, but that was all done through the proper processes, as the NAO report sets out. She asks—I have a lot of respect for the hon. Lady, but really—whether private companies will be involved in the vaccine roll-out. Try Pfizer or BioNTech, the people who came up with and are manufacturing this vaccine. Without them, we would not have a vaccine at all, and a bit of a thank you would do well from the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
I join the Secretary of State in thanking the NHS staff in my Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust who are in the first 50 hospitals to be rolling out the vaccine. That is very welcome, including to my constituents. Given that he was right to be a little cautious about the speed at which we will be able to get this vaccine rolled out, it seems to me not right that we should keep every single restriction in place until we have rolled out the vaccine to the entire population. The onus still remains on the Government to justify every restriction and the balance between the benefits of reducing covid, the economic impact and the non-covid health harm. May I ask the Government to set out that detail before the House is asked to take another decision on these restrictions in January?
The House might be relieved to know that my right hon. Friend and I agree with each other on the need to ensure that, as the vaccine is rolled out to vulnerable groups, we monitor the impact of the vaccine on reducing cases, reducing hospitalisations and reducing the number of people who sadly die from this disease, and take that basis for the judgment of how soon we can lift the restrictions. He and I want to lift the restrictions as soon as is safely possible, and the question of the judgment on how safely is one that we will have to monitor and debate in this House over the coming weeks and months.
When we speak about vulnerable groups, will the Secretary of State assure me that we will not forget those who are homeless? We know that people who are homeless, especially those who are sleeping rough, suffer many disadvantages and barriers to accessing healthcare at the best of times, quite apart from any pre-existing mental or physical health conditions that they have. What steps is his Department taking to ensure that we reach all vulnerable people, whether they are homeless or not?
That is an incredibly important consideration, both on the grounds of social justice and because all of us can pass on the disease to others, so it is right, fair and practical that we must ensure that everybody has access to the vaccine. The community roll-out will be the primary means by which we can reach some of the most vulnerable, including the homeless, whom the right hon. Gentleman mentions. That will be an important consideration in the roll-out.
Will my right hon. Friend outline how his Department is working with local authorities, such as Darlington Borough Council, which is keen to move out of tier 3, to inform our constituents about how, when and where they can access the vaccine?
I am delighted that the James Cook University Hospital in Teesside is one of the first and is vaccinating today. There is a lot of work to be done to make sure that we roll out the vaccine across Teesside, but in the meantime I pay tribute to everybody in the Tees Valley, including in Darlington, who has followed the rules. The numbers are coming down quite sharply, but we have to keep at it, because until this vaccine is rolled out to protect the most vulnerable, as my right hon. Friend Mr Harper put it—until that day—we have to make sure that we keep the virus suppressed until the vaccine can make us safe.
Today is a great day for Britain and the world, and I thank all those involved on a global level to ensure that we have light at the end of the tunnel, and hope and optimism. People in Cheshire West and Chester and Halton who have loved ones in care homes are desperate to visit them. When can those who are resident, the carers and the family members expect to get the vaccine?
I understand how important this is. The roll-out of testing to allow for visiting by Christmas is under way. In terms of the vaccine, care workers, because they can travel, are already—today—being vaccinated, and I hope that we can start the roll-out of vaccines to those who live in care homes, where the vaccine needs to be taken to them, before Christmas.
I welcome the fact that hospitals in Derbyshire are in the first wave of the vaccine roll-out as well. Will my right hon. Friend assure those who are living at and not able to leave home that the roll-out plan will include home visits for those who really need them?
Yes. That is the hardest part of the vaccine roll-out to deliver by its nature, because of the minus 70°C requirements of the vaccine, but it is absolutely a part of the plan.
We already know that poorer areas have fewer GPs, so it is crucial that they receive extra resources to ensure that they are not left behind in the roll-out of the vaccine, on which I congratulate everyone involved. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the vaccine will be fairly distributed across the UK and that working-class communities such as mine in the north-east will not be put at the back of the queue again, as they have been so many other times during this pandemic?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that the fundamental principle of the roll-out is that it must be done according to clinical need and fairly right across every part of the UK, and that is what we are delivering to.
Having been under a variety of restrictions since August, and being now in tier 3, my Colne Valley constituents are incredibly welcoming of the roll-out of the vaccine. We are looking forward to reopening hospitality businesses and starting to get back to normal in the new year. The chief medical officer for Leeds Teaching Hospitals has confirmed that his team are ready for the roll-out of the vaccine across West Yorkshire as soon as it arrives, so can the Secretary of State please confirm that this week we will start to see the roll-out of the vaccine across West Yorkshire?
Today we are seeing the very start of that roll-out, and I absolutely hope that that will expand across West Yorkshire over this week.
I, too, pay tribute to everybody in the NHS who will be administering the vaccine. One of the concerns I had at the beginning of lockdown was that many of my asylum-seeking constituents who have no recourse to public funds were very much left behind in the original lockdown. What work will the Government and the Red Cross in the United Kingdom be doing to liaise with the Home Office to ensure that no one is left behind? After all, covid does not adhere to people’s nationality.
We have a programme under way to ensure that those without an NHS number can get vaccinated; the NHS number is the basis of the calling system to invite people to be vaccinated, but of course not everybody has an NHS number, and we must ensure that those without one get called forward too.
I pay tribute to everyone involved in administering the vaccine from The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough today. Looking ahead to the next stage of the roll-out, I have been contacted by a GP surgery in Berwick Hills in my constituency that is concerned about the resource implications of delivering the vaccine, since it is severely under strength and serves one of the most deprived communities in England. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look at their case and discuss what extra support might be made available to surgeries that find themselves in that position?
The way we have organised the primary care roll-out is through networks of GP practices—primary care networks, as they are called—so that if one GP practice is under particular pressure, for instance because it may be carrying vacancies, the effort can be put together over a wider network of GP practices. The funding support for GPs to deliver this vaccine, as with the flu vaccine, is negotiated and agreed with the British Medical Association and is part of the operational roll-out of the vaccine in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere across the country.
First, may I add my thanks to everybody who has put in the effort to ensure that we get the vaccine? That is lovely news, but unfortunately once again this Government are failing to plan. My clinical commissioning group was given 24 hours to get together the GP practices to roll out the vaccines, and the criterion was 1,500 over-80s. The fact that places such as Bradford West and inner cities have nine years’ less life expectancy and 16 years’ more ill-health means that the three centres that have been set up are in affluent areas. Not a single one is in inner-city Bradford, yet the Government’s own review accepts that covid disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities. When will the Government stop discriminating against those who live in inner-city areas, and prioritise them because of their health risks?
The roll-out of the vaccine is being managed by the NHS, and it is entirely unfair of the hon. Lady to describe the NHS in that way.
It was a delight to turn on the radio this morning and hear some good news for once, but my right hon. Friend is right to describe the roll-out of this vaccine as a Herculean task. In the light of that, what measures is he putting in place to accelerate the development of capacity to make more vaccine, and also covid therapeutic antibodies?
Yes, today has been a celebration of progress we have been able to make, but there is a huge amount more to do, not just in the roll-out but in making sure we have the future vaccines that may be necessary, and the capacity in this country to manufacture and deliver the next generation of vaccine technologies. The advance in vaccine technology over the past 11 months globally has been extraordinary and it is critical that we in the UK have that future capability. That is something the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister with responsibility for vaccine roll-out, is concentrating on very clearly.
Thank goodness for science, thank goodness for international co-operation and thank goodness for our NHS. As a Member of Parliament representing the capital city of Wales, obviously I am very interested in how the different parts of the United Kingdom are going to get the vaccine. Can the Secretary of State tell us a bit more about the work his Department is doing with the devolved Administrations to make sure the vaccine is distributed quickly and fairly to all four nations of our UK?
Yes, this is a UK project that is being done through the NHS in the four nations. The Welsh Government are playing their part. I spoke to Vaughan Gething, my Welsh opposite number, last night to ensure the roll-out was co-ordinated and the final details put in place. There are seven hospitals in Wales that are injecting the vaccine today. I want to thank everybody across Wales for their forbearance. This has been a tough time in Wales. There are still sacrifices to be made while we keep the virus under control until the vaccine can get rolled out through enough of the vulnerable population and we can return life more to normal.
With the vaccine now being rolled out, I was thrilled to see this historic moment—in the world, no less—being administered in the west midlands. I urge my constituents of Stourbridge, when the call to arms comes, to please do take up the vaccine. This question has been asked already, but I do not think there is any harm in my right hon. Friend reiterating his answer. Does he agree with me that we must keep adhering to social distancing, and face, space and hands, and that never more so than now is that a moral imperative, so we can all get back together sooner as a non-socially distanced community, with covid-19 confined to a memory only?
Yes, my hon. Friend puts it very well for the people of Stourbridge and right across the west midlands. We must keep our resolve and stick to the rules. She is right that we have a call to arms, in more sense than one, because we are injecting hope into the arms of people from today. If people are asked to come forward by the NHS then, like her, I urge them to do so.
The Secretary of State will not be surprised, bearing in mind his track record in rolling out testing and tracing, that the hope offered today comes with some serious concerns about the delivery and administration of the vaccine. He has said repeatedly this morning that there are five contingency plans for delivery in the event of failed Brexit talks. What are they?
As I said, we have those five contingency plans. The hon. Lady will understand that ensuring we have high security around those plans is also very important. I want to put on the record my thanks to the people of the north-east, who have done so well over the past few weeks in bringing the number of cases under control, in part thanks to the huge injection of testing we have been able to put in because we have built up testing capacity. I look forward to the day, Mr Speaker, when she and I can work together in the public interest, as we do everything we can to keep people in the north-east safe.
Do you know, I don’t think you’re going to get an answer.
May I join in paying tribute to the NHS, the scientists and indeed my right hon. Friend for today’s amazing news? Carshalton and Wallington residents were touched to hear the words of George Dyer this morning, who, in next door Croydon University Hospital, was the first Londoner to be vaccinated. He said that he was looking forward to going to the shops at Christmas and seeing his family once again. Can my right hon. Friend tell me a bit more about how the vaccine roll-out will roll over into next door Carshalton and Wallington, so that people can share in George’s joy?
Some of the stories we have heard this morning have been really heart-warming, of people being able to have the confidence to do the things that in normal life we take for granted. I heard the story that my hon. Friend refers to and it was truly charming. I look forward to seeing the roll-out in Carshalton and Wallington, and then I look forward to building a new hospital in Sutton for his constituents.
Huge demands are being placed on our NHS staff and they are being asked to step up yet again today, so we thank them for all their efforts. Let me ask about one thing the Secretary of State could help with: instead of every vaccine being individually prescribed, he could issue a patient group directive. Is that in his plan? Will he be doing it?
We are working on doing that as soon as it can safely be achieved.
I join colleagues in thanking the Secretary of State and his team for their incredible hard work, which has brought us to this place. Today is indeed a really good, positive day for the whole United Kingdom. Although the past nine months of pandemic may at times have shone a spotlight on some of the division and tension inherent in our system of devolved government, does he agree that what today fundamentally demonstrates is that when we work together—when we collaborate as a strong family of nations—what we can achieve as a United Kingdom is truly remarkable?
Yes, I could not put it better than my right hon. Friend, who speaks with such power on this subject. I truly believe that it is only because we, as a United Kingdom, went in so early to be buying and developing these vaccines, using all the strength of our United Kingdom, that we have been able to get to this point before any other country in the world.
Like many others, I welcome today’s developments and agree with the Secretary of State that we can look forward to the new year, when, we hope, further vaccines will come online. He will be aware that there has been some discussion of the relative effectiveness of different vaccines, so will that influence the Government’s distribution strategy in any way? Specifically, will certain vaccines be prioritised for certain groups?
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, should it be approved, does have easier logistical and distributional qualities—it does not have to be stored at minus 70°—so that helps. Of course, the JCVI will consider the clinical properties of any vaccine that comes forward when deciding who it can be distributed to, so that is taken into account. Finally, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that this has been an international as well as a UK success. I had a text exchange with my German opposite number this morning to thank, through him, the German scientists who have done so much to make this possible.
I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a practising NHS psychiatrist who has been working on the frontline throughout this pandemic. The Secretary of State will be aware that mental health patients are often an afterthought of policymakers, although I am sure that is not the case for him, and that many of them have multiple medical comorbidities, which make them more vulnerable to covid-19. Will he reassure me that patients in mental health services, particularly in-patients, and NHS staff who work in in-patient mental health services will be prioritised for this vaccine and will not be an afterthought?
Absolutely. NHS staff are in the second priority cohort set out by the JCVI, and that includes all patient-facing staff in the NHS and social care. Patients who are clinically vulnerable to covid absolutely have their rightful place in the prioritisation, according to clinical need.
The roll-out of the covid-19 vaccine today is welcome news, especially for the exciting sporting calendar for 2021, with events such as the Olympics and Paralympics in Japan, the Euros, the Lions tour to South Africa and the women’s rugby world cup in New Zealand, which I must not forget. Concerns have been raised with me about whether sporting competitions will be subject to compulsory vaccination, so what assessment has the Secretary of State made of that—not only for elite sport, but for all competitive sport in 2021?
We have not made such an assessment; we are still in the early days.
I think I have sat through every single urgent question and statement that the Secretary of State has done, but the fact that it says “Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out” on the annunciator screen is still hard to believe. The Secretary of State said earlier that we had got there because of international science. We will deliver global health security only through an international effort—put another way, no one is safe until everyone is safe—so I wonder whether he can update us on how we will work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to help the poorest countries in the world, and of course, those nearest to us who are not the poorest countries, but with which we have a lot of inbound and outbound travel? How can we get them on the same page as us quickly?
The UK has put more money into the international search for a vaccine, and the distribution of a vaccine to the countries that otherwise would not be able to afford it, than any other state of any size, and we should be very proud of that. The way that we have managed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is to ensure that it is available on a not-for-profit basis, essentially, worldwide. We have taken this approach because, to put it exactly as my hon. Friend did, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This is a global pandemic and we need to address it globally. That is the only fundamental way to solve this for the long term. In the short term, what we all need to do is keep following the rules.
The vaccine is indeed welcome news, but until it is fully rolled out, the north-east will continue to be harmed by the lack of economic support that accompanies tier 3 restrictions. The Health Secretary stated that the restrictions were based on
“cases among the over-60s;
the rate at which cases are rising or falling;
the positivity rate;
and the pressures on the local NHS.”—[Official Report,
Can he therefore tell me precisely what level these figures will have to be at for the north-east to be moved into tier 2?
We consider all those figures, and because we consider them alongside special factors such as whether there is an outbreak, we do not put a specific figure on that, as the hon. Lady well knows. But what we have done is put in more economic support than almost any other country in the world, as the International Monetary Fund has recognised. We have tried as best we possibly can to support people through what has been an incredibly difficult year. We have not been able to save every job, but with the economic measures of support for business and the furlough scheme in place, we have put in very significant support. But the best support that people in the north-east, and elsewhere in the country, can have until this vaccine is rolled out is to continue to follow the restrictions that are necessary and then, if they get the call from the NHS, take that vaccine.
A charming lady of 92 has contacted me. She lives on her own, and she cannot get out of the house. I have assured her that the Secretary of State for Health will make especial efforts to ensure that she is looked after and gets her vaccination as soon as possible. Is that correct?
Yes, if she can travel. When the NHS calls, my advice to my hon. Friend’s constituent is to get that card with that invitation and to phone up my hon. Friend, and he will give her a lift.
This is incredibly welcome news today. Looking ahead to Christmas, I have been approached by a number of emergency service workers in the NHS, policing and other sectors who will miss out on the opportunity to see loved ones because of the window for household mixing—they will still be working on the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus crisis during that period. I appreciate that this is a difficult one to crack, but has the Secretary of State given any consideration to flexibility to ensure that those who really deserve a Christmas with their loved ones can still get it?
I have a huge amount of sympathy with what the hon. Lady says, and we have looked into this. We are not proposing to extend the Christmas bubbles, but we hope that NHS trusts and employers across the NHS can look compassionately at exactly this situation for all those brilliant colleagues who are working so hard and have had such a tough year.
I always enjoy my exchanges with my right hon. Friend, and this time I mean that when I say it, because this is incredibly welcome news, particularly given Stepping Hill Hospital’s role in the administration of the vaccine. I will certainly encourage all my constituents, when they receive the invitation, to have the vaccine, take it and dispel some of the more eccentric views that are circulating on the internet. Can my right hon. Friend tell me specifically when those with particular vulnerabilities, such as cancer patients, can expect the call for vaccination?
The plan is, according to clinical priority, to vaccinate those in care homes and their carers; NHS and social care staff, and the over-80s; then the over-75s; and then, at that point, we will turn to ensuring that all those who are on the clinically extremely vulnerable list get vaccinated along with the over-70-year-olds. That is the assessment of the JCVI, which looked into the relative risk that people face and found that age is the No. 1 risk factor.
I am sure the Secretary of State was far from the only one to be emotional today watching the first vaccinations taking place. This is truly a proud day for our country. Although it is right that NHS and social care staff will be among the first to receive the vaccine, what consideration has the Department of Health given to prioritising access for other groups of key workers, including school support staff and workers in transport and essential retail, not only in recognition of the enormous sacrifices that they have made for our nation during the pandemic, but to minimise disruption as we return to normality?
We looked at that very closely, as did the JCVI, and because of the risk of dying of covid, it is absolutely right that age takes priority. The prioritisation of health and social care staff is also high because they look after those who are most at risk of dying. Once we are through those clinical priorities, then of course, we will be looking to prioritise other workers, including those the hon. Lady mentions.
I congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend, his Department, the NHS, the scientists, the clinicians and everyone involved in the development and roll-out of this covid vaccine technology. Will he provide assurance that logistics are in place to ensure that those in remote rural areas, such as those in Cumbria, will be able to access the vaccination programme without any delay, given that they are some distance from major hospitals?
Yes, my hon. Friend rightly raises an important point. Vaccination is happening in Cumbria today, which I am really pleased about. Cumbria is, of course, one of the most rural parts of the UK, so when we get to the primary care and the community roll-out, we will make sure that we can get the delivery as close to communities as possible. That is much harder with the Pfizer vaccine because of the minus 70° requirements. The AstraZeneca vaccine is much easier from that point of view, but of course, we do not have that clinically signed off yet.
This morning, at Southmead hospital, 98-year-old Jack Vokes became the first person in Bristol to be vaccinated, which is obviously great news, and I join my colleagues in congratulating NHS staff on all their work at this time. May I press the Secretary of State on the point about transport workers, particularly taxi drivers, who we know are vulnerable not just because of their contact with the public, but because they are overwhelmingly drawn from the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, which puts them more at risk? Under the headings of prioritising occupations and minimising the inequalities in the second tranche, are they likely to be considered for vaccination early?
We absolutely will consider that factor when we come to the groups after the clinical prioritised groups. I join the hon. Lady in thanking Jack and all those who have put themselves forward today to be vaccinated, including sometimes in the public eye, as part of this programme to help build confidence in vaccination overall and, of course, to help protect themselves and their loved ones.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his whole team on their Herculean effort to get us to the point where, today, Basildon University Hospital has started delivering the vaccine. Now, as we scale up the roll-out programme, will he join me in reassuring people that, despite the speed of development, not a single stage was missed and that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has done its usual due diligence in approving this vaccine?
That is right. The MHRA has gone through the same safety processes as normal, but it has done them in parallel at the same time, rather than in a series, one after another. It is that sort of smart and thoughtful approach, alongside the work of the Vaccine Taskforce in buying the vaccine in the first place, that has allowed us to get to this point of having confidence in the safety and efficacy of this vaccine before anybody else in the world. Everybody in Basildon who gets the call can have confidence that they should come forward, get the jab, protect themselves, protect those around them and, therefore, help us all get through this terrible thing.
I echo the sentiment that it is such a pleasure to be able to stand here today and talk about covid-19 with a smile on our faces, and to look forward to 2021 after such a horrific year. That is particularly true for people who are vulnerable and have been shielding, and they will now need reassurance that the vaccine will get to them. Does the Secretary of State agree that, as we go into next year, we should take with us and bear in mind the fact that we have done this across the UK, as a United Kingdom?
There is more in common than divides us, and we are stronger as a country when we all work together; those two things I have long believed. I have always thought that a vaccine would come through. Lots of people told me that it was not certain and that it could not happen, but I have always driven it forward for the whole UK, because it is the clear route out.
It is obviously excellent news that the vaccine has been rolled out today. I was delighted to see that my constituent, Kenneth Lamb from New Romney, was the first patient to receive the vaccine at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is really important that people take the vaccine when they are offered it, and that we do all we can to combat harmful disinformation about it? The next time that he speaks to Mark Zuckerberg, will he remind him that we expect his companies to act against harmful anti-vaccine disinformation?
Thrice yes, indeed; I thank my hon. Friend, who is Stratford’s representative in this place.
My hon. Friend Damian Collins is right about disinformation. I have been doing a lot of work with Nick Clegg, who is Mark Zuckerberg’s representative on earth. Facebook and Instagram have taken significant strides forward in terms of removing anti-vax content, and I am very grateful to them for the work that they have done. I have no doubt that there is more work that we can all do together, but they have played their part.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.