Covid-19 Vaccine: Take-up Rates in London — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:56 am on 9th March 2021.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 9:56 am, 9th March 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Christopher, albeit for the first time virtually. I congratulate Andy Slaughter on securing the debate, which is important for all Londoners. It is a pleasure to follow Ms Buck.

In the London Borough of Harrow, we have had an outstanding performance on vaccination rates. We received congratulations from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on that performance, and I put on the record my appreciation and thanks to the fantastic team—both from the NHS and the volunteers—who made this possible. To set it in context, more than 70,000 people in Harrow have had their first vaccination, out of an adult population of just under 200,000, which is a remarkable performance, at the Hive centre, which opened in December, and at Byron Hall and Tithe Farm, which opened in January. To get to this stage so quickly has been remarkably good.

That has to be set against the fact that Harrow is the most ethnically diverse borough in London. Others have a higher number of different sections of population, but we literally have someone from every country on the planet and various different communities, so it is a direct challenge to reach all those different communities and to encourage them to come forward to get their vaccinations. This fantastic effort also has to be set against the position that, at the beginning of the pandemic, Northwick Park Hospital came very close to being overwhelmed by the number of covid cases. Sadly, we have had a very high death rate, and at one stage Harrow had the highest covid transmission rate in London, so achieving this vaccination rate has been vital.

More than 35,000 people have had their first vaccination at the Hive since the middle of December, and the Prime Minister visited the site to see at first hand the excellent work that is being done. However, we are experiencing problems, and I will relay some of those for the Minister. There is reluctance among the Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, who are hard to reach. There have been real difficulties in getting them to come forward; there is a reluctance to have the vaccine. Among the white British, Irish and Indian population, there have been no such problems—they have come forward in their droves to receive their vaccinations, which is good news.

The supply problems are really serious. To give the Minister an example—I hope he will be able to answer this—the capacity at each of our vaccination centres is roughly 860 doses a day, yet this week, our centres will only receive 400 doses. That is less than half a day’s work, so the lack of supply is holding us back from achieving even faster vaccination rates.

The real problem that emanates from that is that we are having particular difficulties in contacting younger people who have underlying health conditions. They are among the most reluctant to come forward, because of the myths and legends about what the vaccine does to people’s bodies. I am pleased that we now have a myth-buster to combat this unfortunate propaganda, which is spreading very widely among different communities. An excellent video has also been put together by different community leaders, coming together irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed to say why it is important that people have the vaccination, to encourage people to do so, and to try to combat some of this insidious propaganda.

Also on the issue of vaccine supply, my centres complain that they get notified only a day in advance of the vaccine arriving, which of course means that it is very difficult to schedule people in to get their vaccinations. Can we have a better plan for supply of vaccine, which is vitally important? Equally, allowing flexibility to GPs undertaking vaccinations at GP surgeries would help considerably. It would reach those harder-to-reach groups, because people trust their GPs in the way that they do not necessarily trust going to a large vaccination centre.

I will end my remarks by saying that in Harrow, certainly, we have achieved remarkably well, but we can do better provided that we get the supply, that we have better notice, and that the facilities continue to arrive. At the end of April, two of our mass vaccination centres will close, and there will be the potential for complete chaos when we come to the second doses, because everyone will be invited to attend one centre in Harrow to get their second dose. I predict that is going to be quite chaotic, so I would ask that we look at potentially keeping those centres open for a further period to ensure that every adult gets their opportunity for at least the first dose by the end of July, as per the plan that the Minister has.

Thank you, Sir Christopher, and I look forward to listening to what other colleagues have to say.