There was a time when I did not think that I was going to get on, but I am back, so thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The first vaccine dose has now been supplied to more than 2.2 million people. That is larger than the whole of the rest of Europe put together—a brilliant start to this huge programme to vaccinate a significant proportion of the United Kingdom’s people. I thank our healthcare workers in Gloucestershire, who have been working very hard since Christmas to meet the four priority groups by mid-February. I understand that most care home residents and workers will be vaccinated by the end of this week—a fantastic achievement.
We must make a comprehensive plan this year for our schools. I received a number of detailed questions from my constituents on the curriculum to be adopted. For example, is Ofqual considering the idea of grades being announced earlier this year to provide certainty and time if needed to appeal the grades? Will some form of mini-exam or coursework on the content learned be expected to help in grading accurately? What will be the plan for students who do not take normal exams, for example, those on apprenticeships, or the new T-levels being trialled at Cirencester College? We now have enough information to make those decisions. We should make them and adhere to them. Clarity must be provided for schools, parents and pupils, with all Government communications and websites being clear and not contradictory.
The vaccine programme has the makings of being a great British success, as we build on a strong medical manufacturing base in future. We are now world leaders in the new ribonucleic acid technology, which should enable vaccines to be made for not just covid but a wide range of viruses. From yesterday’s Public Accounts Committee session on the vaccine programme, the immense skill and knowledge of Kate Bingham and her taskforce were well and truly apparent. When they started their work in May they were not sure whether they would be able to develop a vaccine, let alone where it would come from. Yet the vaccine trial has now been successfully launched, with 267 million doses contracted from five companies at a cost of £2.9 billion. It is an amazing achievement.
The strong message of recovery now needs to come from the Government, encouraging everyone to take up the vaccination so that we can enable individuals, schools, hospitals and, above all, businesses to have a well-overdue return to normal life.