Covid-19: Vaccinations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 11th January 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 5:27 pm, 11th January 2021

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s backing and support. He asks a number of important questions, and I will attempt to answer them now. Suffice it to say that it would be sensible for us to recognise that test and trace now delivers 85% of those who are tested positive in terms of identifying their direct contacts and the indirect contacts at between 92% and 96%. Over 5 million people have been tested and isolated and are therefore not transmitting or spreading this virus, and 55 million people have been tested. That is a pretty major undertaking, with capacity now touching 770,000 and tests running at about 600,000 a day. From a standing start of about 2,000 a day back in March, that is a pretty remarkable achievement for NHS test and trace.

The hon. Gentleman asked about 24-hour provision. There are two priorities for the NHS, and we have looked really long and hard at this. Priority No. 1 is obviously to target very closely those four most vulnerable categories. Priority No. 2 is to try to get a vaccination to them as quickly as possible, which is about throughput. This is linked because if we were to go to a 24-hour regime, it would be much harder to target the vaccine at those four cohorts. Obviously, when we have limited vaccine volume, we do not want staff standing around waiting for people in centres that are open 24 hours. Also, many of those people are over 80, and we are going into care homes to vaccinate the residents of those homes. The decision to go from 8 to 8 was made because we want to ensure that there is an even spread and very close targeting.

That is linked to throughput—how many vaccinations can we get into people’s arms as quickly as possible? We do not want vaccines sitting in fridges or on shelves. That goes to the hon. Gentleman’s question on the 24 hours, but also the pharmacy question. All the 200 pharmacies that we are operationalising can do 1,000-plus vaccinations a week, so the focus in phase 1, certainly with the first four categories—and, I think, with the total nine categories—is very much on targeting and throughput. The 2,700 sites are the best way that we can target that. Obviously, primary care is very good at identifying those who are most vulnerable or over 80 and, of course, getting into care homes, hence why the NHS plan and the plan we have published today are very much based around those priorities.

As we enter phase 2, where we begin to want to vaccinate as many adults as quickly as possible, we want convenience of course. We want to be able to go into many more pharmacies, so people can walk to their local pharmacy, or GP, and get their jab, when we have limitless volumes of vaccines. We have clearly now got that optioned and it will come through in the weeks and months ahead. That is the reason for that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the limiting factor continues at this stage to be vaccine volumes. The NHS has built an infrastructure that can deploy the vaccine as quickly as possible, but it is vaccine volumes that will change. With any new manufacturing process, especially one where we are dealing with quite a complex process—it is a biological compound that we are producing—it tends to be lumpy at the start, but it very quickly stabilises and becomes much more even. We are beginning to see that, which is good news.

We are absolutely committed to making sure the health and social care workforce are vaccinated as quickly as possible, and of course we are committed to making sure the residents of care homes are vaccinated by the end of this month—January. I reaffirm that commitment to the hon. Gentleman.

I think the hon. Gentleman’s final question was on data. I am glad that he agrees that it is important, because the Prime Minister’s absolute instruction to us as a team is that we have to make sure we publish as much data as possible as quickly as possible, hence why we have moved to a rhythm of daily data and on the Thursday more detailed publication, which will have regional breakdowns. The NHS is committed as it builds up more data to publish more and more. The nation expects, and rightly wants to see, the speed and the targeting that we are delivering, but I am confident that the NHS has a solid plan. We have the volunteers and the Army—two great institutions of this country—delivering this campaign and with the support of Her Majesty’s Opposition I am sure we will do this.