We are now in the second year of coronavirus, and we have all experienced highs and lows throughout this period. At the beginning, we were told that this is a great leveller, given that Prince Charles and the Prime Minister had it. Rather than the “we are all in it together” narrative, it is maybe more fair to say that we are all in the same storm, but in different boats. Nowhere have we seen that differential impact more clearly than in the vaccine roll-out in London.
We all remember the pictures of the memorably named William Shakespeare having his jab early in December, but it took a good 10 days for the vaccine to reach the magnificent gothic splendour of Ealing town hall, and sadly the supply in London has lagged behind other parts of the country. It has been a magnificent effort. We have all seen the brilliant statistic that a third of the population have been done, but again, there is room for improvement here. We remember the highs and lows—the 50,000 fatalities figure came just before the miracle of the vaccine at Christmas that has given everyone hope—but that maxim of differential impact is one we have to look at.
There are two things that will take us to the other side of this: vaccine uptake among the population and the hesitancy that people talk about, and supply. London has nudging 10 million people—some 12% of the population. My own borough has 360,000 people. Initially, we had the town hall, then we had a second venue in Southall— in the west of the borough. Both those were closed last week. The latter did a record 1,200, I think, before shutting its doors until further notice. There has been a magnificent effort from volunteers and NHS staff, and everyone was poised. I have heard nothing but praise about the efficiency of the operation, but then they were all stood down.
There are old divides between the inner city and the leafy suburbs, but my seat has both: Ealing is known as “queen of the suburbs”, but there are wards of deprivation in Acton, where there has been no vaccination centre; it is a bit of a vaccination black spot. I hope the Minister will help me to address that issue. Acton is big enough to have a tube or rail station with every compass point on several different lines—Central, District, and Piccadilly—but there is no vaccination centre. Given the characteristics of its population, the Acton-shaped hole makes the issue even more urgent.
As a whole, London—our nation’s capital—sometimes seems to have experienced this over-promising, and this moonshot rhetoric. Not that long ago, we were promised 24-hour vaccinations in the capital. That was being said in January. The experience of our centres last week was far from that.
We are waiting for the second dose and hopefully there will be a big surge, but it concerns me that there seems to be a bit of anti-London rhetoric from the Government at times. That stretches to the fact that we have a towns fund with new bungs bringing in prosperity and opportunity—but not in London, which has been completely excluded in favour of red wall locations. I would caution the Government not to let that apply to vaccination supply. London is not immune from deprivation, poor housing and overcrowding: I have those in my wards in Acton. Localised need should drive allocation, not centralised supply.