Covid-19: Vaccinations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:26 pm on 13th January 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 1:26 pm, 13th January 2021

My Lords, I thank the Minister for allowing this Statement to be taken. This is a challenging moment in the handling of the pandemic. We have growing infection rates; we are in lockdown; businesses are shut; schools are closed. Tragically, more than 80,000 people have already lost their lives to this awful virus. However, the vaccine provides us with a light. It is a glimmer of hope; a way to beat the virus, save lives and get us back to normal. I congratulate the Government on investing in multiple vaccine candidates —that has definitely paid off. But a vaccine alone does not make a vaccination programme. Given the Government’s record with test and trace, and the procurement of PPE, it is right that the Minister will face many questions about the delivery and implementation of the vaccine programme.

The plan that has been launched is quite conventional. Aside from big vaccination centres, it uses traditional delivery mechanisms, operating within traditional opening and access times. If the Secretary of State’s target for the number to be vaccinated is to be reached, exceptional circumstances call for an exceptional response. Why did the Government believe that 24/7 access is something that people would not be interested in? What is that view based on? However, I see that, in a characteristic U-turn, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said today that the coronavirus vaccine programme will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, “as soon as we can”. What does this actually mean? When will the details of the plan to provide this service be published? The Secretary of State has said that the only limiting factor on the immunisation programme will be the speed of supply. Can the Minister confirm that this plan will receive the supply which is needed?

I think we can all see that the logistics of vaccinating a nation are huge, and we now hear many anecdotal stories about the reliability of supply, the organisation of vaccination, cancelled appointments and uncertainty of supply. On 17 December, I asked about the inoculation of our NHS staff, as it seemed obvious to me that, if we did not give vaccines to those dealing with the most sick Covid patients, and given the spike we are now experiencing, we would find many of our precious NHS staff becoming ill—as indeed we have. We are now experiencing the consequences. We are currently missing around 46,000 NHS staff for Covid reasons. When will all our NHS staff have been vaccinated?

What consideration has been given to vaccinating patients who are going to be in hospital? I am thinking, for example, about maternity services. Has it been considered that expectant mothers, and those who have just given birth, should also be vaccinated?

London currently has by far the highest rates of Covid in the UK, yet it is receiving fewer doses of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines per head of population. Will the Minister commit to providing those desperately needed additional supplies urgently?

We are all reassured to see pharmacies included in the plan. They are at the heart of the communities of our country. They are trusted and are all ready to deliver mass vaccination. It is slightly odd that the number being trailed publicly is of 200 participating pharmacies, given that there are in fact 11,500 community pharmacies in England. Can the Minister clarify whether that is right? Why are not more involved, or is that number wrong? Can the Minister share with us what the number is?

On social care, it seems that about 23% of elderly care home residents have been vaccinated compared with 40%—which is brilliant—of the over-80s. Given their top prioritisation, can the Minister tell us when all care home residents will have been vaccinated? Will it be the end of the month, as has been promised?

When is it likely that our school and nursery staff will be vaccinated? I can see that the prioritisation lists are difficult and demanding—there is huge demand on this vaccine—but if we are to return to any semblance of normality, we need to get our children back to school.