Covid-19 Vaccination Roll-out — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:20 pm on 11th January 2021.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 6:20 pm, 11th January 2021

It is an honour to participate in a debate under your chairing, Sir David. It is an extremely important and timely debate, and I thank all the people who signed the two petitions that brought it forward.

For almost a year, covid-19 has impacted all our lives in ways we could never have expected or imagined. Young people have missed vital time in the classroom, businesses have been forced to close, families have been kept apart and, shockingly, more than 80,000 lives have now been lost. The correspondence I receive every day from constituents represents their vast and varied concerns. The common thread is an overwhelming sense of fatigue and the desperate wish for the country to get back to normal.

The vaccine is our way out, our golden ticket to some sense of normality. I put on record my thanks to all those who have worked to make it possible. It should amaze us all that in less than 10 months humans have been able to learn about the virus, develop a vaccine to combat it, test it, conduct three phases of trials and get it approved. That could not have been done without enormous sacrifice, talent and a level of international collaboration that should inspire us all and be applied to a range of areas. Because of that hard work, we can now see light at the end of the tunnel.

The pandemic has demanded huge sacrifices from people all over the world in the name of beating the virus. Now that we have a vaccine, it is incumbent on the Government to hold to their end of the bargain and ensure that the roll-out is done correctly. The stakes are painfully clear. If we can get a vaccine for people most at risk, in the fastest amount of time, we will be able to save countless lives.

That is why, alongside the Daily Mirror and the TUC, my party has started the Let’s Vaccinate Britain campaign. We are working with trade unions to demand that employers give workers paid time off to get vaccinated. We are encouraging people to sign up to the NHS to volunteer and to speak to their friends, neighbours and relatives about the importance of getting vaccinated. I call on everyone listening to the debate to get involved in that campaign.

Many of my constituents and others in Leeds are already contributing to the national effort. Fittingly, Leeds’s first covid vaccine was given Sylvia Harris, an 80-year-old ward housekeeper who has worked for the NHS since she was 26, but has had to shield at home since March last year. Soon, she will finally be able to return to what she does best—caring for her patients. I thank Leeds United football club for offering its stadium, Elland Road, to be a vaccination centre, and all those across Leeds who are devoting time and energy to making the vaccine administration possible.

We need a huge national effort to get this country vaccinated, starting with key workers and those most vulnerable to the virus. That means conducting round-the-clock vaccinations, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It makes perfect sense for key workers to be vaccinated overnight, allowing daytime vaccinations for the age priority groups.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has said that there is no public appetite for vaccinations 24 hours a day. I do not believe that is correct. Key workers, and people who want the vaccine in order to get back to normal, will take it on whatever day or night is offered to them. Older age groups might not be prepared to have the vaccine during the night, so maybe the strategy is to vaccinate the key workers in the nocturnal hours and the older age groups in the daytime hours. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] There is agreement about that across the House.

As Craig Williams said, politicians across the House have been keen to emphasise the importance of getting children back into school. I declare an interest, as I have a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old, and it is sometimes difficult to motivate them for home learning. I am sure we all know that feeling. We cannot get them back in school until it is safe. Schools cannot operate in a socially distanced way, without access to proper personal protective equipment. Vaccination is the only way we can ensure staff are protected.

It is not just teachers who need to be added to the priority groups. I submitted a written question last week on hospices. The Minister who has just finished in the Chamber, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Nadhim Zahawi, can listen to this debate now and to what I have to say. He responded by saying that the JCVI based its advice on the data it reviewed from a number of sources, including the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England. For the purposes of covid-19 vaccine prioritisation, the definition of care homes is all care home premises licensed and registered with the Care Quality Commission. This definition does not include hospices. I want to ask the Minister on duty, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jo Churchill, and the Minister who is hopefully watching, why hospices should not be added, because they are just as important as other care settings.

I also want to make a plea for early years. Why is early years treated differently from teachers or other settings? They should not be. Early years settings are suffering at the moment because they are open, and the financial pressures are immense because of the different pressures on their time. Today the leaders of Leeds City Council wrote to the Minister for Children and Families and copied in the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment. Councillors Blake and Venner wrote, “We are requesting that early years staff, to include childminder staff working in group settings and wraparound care, are prioritised for the covid-19 vaccine. Early years providers support a large number of children, provide personal care and do not wear PPE. It is of course vital that the NHS and care home workers as well as other priority groups more vulnerable to the virus receive the vaccine first. But we are asking that early years staff form an additional priority group after this.” That is another group that can be vaccinated in the evening or at night, putting our youngest away from harm in those settings.

I will conclude by asking about transparency on data, which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire gently touched upon. We have a lot of data around testing. We know how many tests are being conducted in each local authority area. We know where the roll-out is and where the centres are. If we can have that level of data for testing, why can we not have it for vaccinations? I am sure that other Members, like me, look on the Worldometer website, which has started recording vaccination data as well as testing data, cases, mortality and so on. Soon there will be global comparisons around vaccinations and we will be able to see where the UK stands. We can see that now, but we need to be able to dig right down to see how many vaccines have been supplied to each primary care network, how many centres there are, and how many first and second vaccines have been given. That will start to give the public confidence that there is not a postcode lottery, that roll-outs are happening and that centres are open. That will encourage more people to come forward, not just to receive the vaccine but to support the roll-out.

Data and public confidence are really important. I hope that the duty Minister, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, will take that away and provide us with that data. I asked the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon about that in a private call just before Christmas. He said he would get back to me. Now that I have raised it in this Chamber, I hope that he will.