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

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 4:56 pm on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative 4:56, 21 May 2024

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for today's statement on the national immunisation framework for Wales. Let me also join you, Cabinet Secretary, in saying that the importance of that effective immunisation programme is an absolute must for any nation. Of course, it serves to protect everyone in our society, but particularly those who are at vulnerable points in life, such as children, infants and pregnant women. As such, it's so important that people get the vaccines that are relevant to them at the time that they can, because, of course, it protects them and it protects others as well. 

You mentioned in your statement, Cabinet Secretary, the good news we know of the global eradication of smallpox. Other examples of diseases that have been tackled spring to mind as well, such as diphtheria and tetanus, both having been reduced dramatically due to vaccination programmes rolled out across the UK in the 1940s and 1960s respectively. It's so important that those cases are understood and tracked, and the important work of the framework in doing that as well. 

We also have to recognise that this isn't the case in every country around the world, and it shows the importance of both the effective vaccinations, and also having a population that trusts the process to take the vaccine to protect them as well. I think we all have a role to play as politicians in encouraging take-up of vaccines to our constituents when they are available. 

On the national immunisation framework that you referenced, of course, a statement relating to that was published in 2022, and I've got a few questions. The first is in relation to the role of the framework as it assigns responsibility for implementation to the NHS Wales delivery unit, and the oversight of that, of course, is with the Welsh Government and the Cabinet Secretary. I'm just interested to understand how satisfied you are that the delivery unit is working and that, as the Welsh Government, you have sufficient grip of the situation and governance in place to take a lead if things aren't working as they should. I understand you are interested in governance structures at the moment; I'd be interested in that area, in particular. 

You rightly referenced the COVID-19 response in your statement, and I certainly join you in commending the efforts of all those involved in the roll-out of that important vaccine. We also know that these bacterial infections and illnesses don't stop at borders or administrative boundaries, so I'd like to understand a bit more about how you're working with other bodies, such as colleagues at UK Government level and local authority level, to ensure we maximise that immunisation take-up, and also have a response in place if and when we have further outbreaks or global pandemic levels as well. 

Thank you today for referencing whooping cough and the work that's been undertaken to look to reduce those numbers. I'm really concerned about the rise in those cases, and I certainly concur with your message that pregnant women should come forward for that vaccination if they haven't had it already, to try and stop and reduce any potential harm. So, I join you in that.

I also want to reference your highlighting of the importance of vaccination for measles as well, which, as you've shown, is unfortunately on the increase both here in the UK and around the world. That, of course, can be prevented with the MMR vaccine. You mentioned in your statement, Cabinet Secretary, the 90 per cent figure of schoolchildren looking to be vaccinated by the end of July; that's certainly welcome. But I'd like to know how likely you think that figure is to be met, and what work you're doing to make sure children who aren't in traditional school settings, such as those who are perhaps in home education, are able to access these vaccines as well.

So, I just want to close by certainly welcoming also the digital work being undertaken to support the improvement in vaccine take-up. I think it's a really important area of work, making sure that systems and programmes are talking to each other between primary care and into our hospitals as well. I also want to join you in recognising the role that, again, we all play, in ensuring that our constituents are aware of the importance of taking those vaccines, when they're available, to reduce the risks to themselves and to others as well. Diolch yn fawr iawn.