6. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care: National Immunisation Framework for Wales

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 4:48 pm on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Mair Eluned Morgan Baroness Mair Eluned Morgan Labour 4:48, 21 May 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lywydd. It's just over 18 months since I launched the national immunisation framework for Wales, and I'm pleased to be able to provide an update about the progress we've made and to share some of the plans we have for the rest of this year.

I want to start by saying that vaccination is one of the safest and most effective ways of preventing the spread of, and protecting people from contracting, potentially life-threatening diseases. Vaccines are part of the arsenal we have at our fingertips to fight illnesses and diseases—illnesses that have previously killed tens of thousands of people every year in the UK, let alone worldwide. We have successfully eradicated smallpox globally, thanks to the heroic efforts of teams around the world to vaccinate whole populations, and we are well on our way to wiping out other deadly diseases.

We all saw how effective vaccination was during the pandemic. The COVID vaccine has saved thousands of lives and prevented even more cases of serious illness. Our experience delivering the COVID vaccine led to the development of the national immunisation framework for Wales. Just over a year ago, we created a national vaccination team in the new NHS Wales Executive. The team is providing national support and performance management, while also ensuring health boards have flexibility to deliver vaccination programmes in the way that works most effectively for their local population.

Our commitment to ensuring equitable access to vaccination for every citizen in Wales remains a core priority. The pandemic brought into sharp focus the serious health implications vaccine inequity can cause. It was inspiring to see the advances made in tackling inequities by removing barriers and reaching into and working with communities. Maintaining that momentum has been challenging post pandemic, and we have seen a reduction in uptake in some vaccines, with some very worrying consequences. But I am absolutely clear that we must maintain momentum to reduce inequities where they exist and to improve uptake where it has dipped.

The national immunisation framework set a requirement for health boards to develop vaccination equity strategies to clearly set out ways inequities are being actively reduced.  This work is being prioritised and I look forward to seeing the real-world impacts. Closely aligned to our commitment to equity is the commitment in the framework to improved vaccine literacy. Public Health Wales will publish a vaccine literacy strategy, which will help to improve public understanding and awareness of vaccines and support informed decision making. Ultimately, this will help to maximise vaccination uptake.