National Immunisation Programme - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:17 am on 23 May 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 11:17, 23 May 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the national immunisation programme, and the steps that will be taken to accelerate the delivery of new vaccines on the programme.

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we have one of the most extensive immunisation programmes in the world, with high vaccine confidence and uptake rates. The Government are committed to improving vaccination uptake rates to protect the public fully from preventable diseases. Established mechanisms for horizon scanning are undertaken each year by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, and, following its advice, the introduction of new vaccines and programmes will protect more people from a wider range of diseases.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer, but can he say what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the slow and low uptake of vaccines on economic inactivity, UK GDP, and NHS waiting lists and times? He has already referred to the horizon-scanning programme, but can he enlighten the House on what progress has been made on an enhanced horizon-scanning programme to ensure that more vaccines are made available for many types of diseases through the national immunisation programme?

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, who is a doughty campaigner on this subject, not just in your Lordships’ House but in the House of Commons for many years on behalf of her constituents. I reassure her that the Government note the impact that vaccine-preventable diseases have on the NHS, particularly during the winter. It is important that different health interventions are assessed in a fair way, to limit wasteful spend and to maximise benefits, but it is also acknowledged that vaccine programmes may have additional benefits to the wider economy beyond health protection. That also applies to other health interventions, particularly some categories of medicines and other direct treatments. The Government’s decisions on changes to current vaccination programmes, and on introducing additional vaccines to their national offer, continue to be informed by independent advice and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Photo of Baroness Manzoor Baroness Manzoor Conservative

My Lords, as this is the last health Oral Question before the general election I take the opportunity to thank my noble friend, and indeed the Minister, my noble friend Lord Markham, for the excellent contribution they have made in their briefs. It has been very welcome. There have been concerns about shortages in medicines and manufacturing. and in supply chains. Can my noble friend assure the House and me that these have been addressed, or say whether there are any problems with vaccine production?

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank my noble friend for the question and her kind words, and I will let the Minister, my noble friend Lord Markham, know. My noble friend raises a good point. Over £405 million was invested by the Vaccine Taskforce to secure and scale up the UK’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities to ensure a robust response to Covid-19 and potential future health emergencies. This includes support for the chemical producer Croda to increase the UK manufacturing capacity of speciality lipids, funding for CPI to develop and equip the RNA Centre of Excellence in Darlington, support for skills development through the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network, and funding for the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult. The Government have learned from Covid and are investing heavily in our home-based manufacturing.

Photo of Lord Allan of Hallam Lord Allan of Hallam Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, while the politicians may be distracted over the next few months, there is nothing to stop technical teams continuing to work on important tools such as easy online access to immunisation records for adults and children. Before he shuts his office up, can the noble Lord provide us with a written update on progress on online access to immunisation records? To him and his noble friend Lord Markham I say so long, and thanks for all the letters.

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I will pass on that message from the noble Lord, who has consistently asked excellent questions about the modernisation behind the scenes of the NHS and of business practices, and on moving from paper to digitising. He is absolutely right and I will take his question back to the department. Moving forward, it is very important that we, and our children and our children’s children, can pick up the app and see what vaccinations we have had. It is very simple and straightforward. I have to say that, in recent years, the Government have made very significant progress on the NHS app, but there is more to do.

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend will know from previous vaccination programmes that there have been vaccine-hesitant individuals but also communities that have not always been reached. I know that there has been some learning from those previous immunisation programmes. Can my noble friend update the House on what progress has been made and what learning there has been from previous vaccination or immunisation programmes to make sure that we reach those hard-to-reach individuals and communities?

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am grateful to my noble friend, who raises an important point. As I said, the UK has the most extensive immunisation programme in the world, with our vaccine confidence and uptake rates among the highest globally. However, we still have a lot of work to do on the communication of these outstanding products. NHS England’s Vaccination Strategy was published in December 2023; it sets out how the NHS and its partners will reduce morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases by increasing vaccination uptake and coverage. The strategy outlines plans to maximise convenience for local communities, improve confidence and tackle complacency, by making every contact with local NHS services count. We all experienced the vaccination programme during Covid-19, and the NHS has learned from that by providing services locally so that people who find it difficult to travel around London or big cities have a convenient, familiar civic centre in which to get vaccinated. We have learned from Covid, but clearly we have a lot more to do.

Photo of Lord Kakkar Lord Kakkar Crossbench

My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my registered interests. Research, development and production of vaccines will increasingly represent an important part of our national security strategy. Is the Minister content that there is sufficient investment in those three elements to ensure that we can secure our biosecurity in the future?

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise this. As I said in the previous answer that I gave to my noble friend, the Government are investing significantly in the manufacturing capacity and the supply chain within the United Kingdom. In the event of an emergency, we have a supply chain within the United Kingdom so that we can supply the vaccines needed for its population.

Photo of Baroness Merron Baroness Merron Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

My Lords, last year, the noble Lord told the House that he was hopeful that an RSV immunisation programme for babies and older adults would be available for this winter, having overcome any potential barriers to implementation. Can he assure this House and my noble friend Lady Ritchie—who he has already acknowledged as such an effective campaigner on this matter—that all is on track for that to start later this year?

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. The Government have made a policy decision on the eligibility of a potential respiratory syncytial virus programme, which is in line with the JCVI’s comments made in September 2023. We are working through the full business case, with costings and operational delivery, for final agreement in line with an autumn start. It is agreed by the Government that any potential RSV programme and its sidelines will be announced in the summer.

Photo of Lord Sahota Lord Sahota Labour

My Lords, there are reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots and other side effects, and it has been banned in some countries. Do the Government still think it is safe to have a vaccine from the AstraZeneca company?

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Wherever possible, you should get vaccinated across the board, whether it is for polio, whooping cough or whatever. We have some of the safest vaccinations in the world. The specific company that the noble Lord mentioned is an outstanding example of British innovation, and we need to support such British companies. The message is clear that everybody in this country should take the opportunity to get vaccinated, for whatever disease.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the Royal Navy was very involved with immunisation work for tropical diseases because it had many ships all over the world. I am delighted that the party opposite understands that there is a need for more ships, and has said that it will put more money into defence. I noticed, having checked with the Treasury, that the money lines are not there yet. Can the noble Lord ensure that they are there before the election?

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord will not be surprised that I do not have an answer to his question in my pack. However, this gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Lord, who is an outstanding public servant. The House may not know it but we have a family connection. My daughter serves in the Sea Cadets unit associated with the ship the noble Lord commanded in the Falklands crisis, and I pay tribute to him and the time he puts into the Sea Cadets. I will write to him on the specific question.