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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 9th March 2021.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 10:15 am, 9th March 2021

It is a pleasure to join this very important debate, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter on securing it.

The speed of the roll-out of the vaccination programme is a great source of hope for all of us. Those of us who have lost loved ones are particularly grateful to the NHS, to the scientists and to so many people who have come together to produce this vaccine, because we all know how important it is to protect our constituents, and our friends and family.

Locally, I pay tribute to my local authority, which has set up a helpline that is proactively contacting people who have not been vaccinated, and addressing and answering their questions. Government resources will make a big difference to other local authorities to help support that effort, and we need that back-up from Ministers.

I also thank the Royal London Hospital, Queen Mary University, GPs’ surgeries, the London Muslim Centre and other partners who have been helping with the vaccination effort in my constituency. Many people will be aware that in the first wave Tower Hamlets had the fourth-highest age-standardised death rate in the country. Although we are a young population, relatively speaking, there are huge health inequalities and huge issues with deprivation, severe overcrowding, intergenerational households and many other factors that, as other colleagues have said, make inner London extremely vulnerable to this pandemic.

In the second wave, we saw that the spread of the virus caused more deaths, which is why it is vital that we get to those who have not yet been vaccinated and those who have underlying health conditions by increasing the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that we get to those who did not take up the vaccine when they were offered it, for a number of complicated reasons, as other colleagues have mentioned. In some cases, it is about reticence, but it is also about practicalities and about deprivation. It is not just ethnic minority communities who are affected, although we have seen big differentials; it is also those from white disadvantaged backgrounds and from working-class backgrounds who have been disproportionately affected, both in terms of death rates and in lower take-up of vaccines.

What we need to do now is make sure that the vaccines are in the right places. The centralised hubs are, of course, useful and important, but it is also vital that we get vaccines to local GP surgeries. As I have said to the Minister time and again, it is vital that we get more vaccines to pharmacies and that pop-up clinics get up and running. The ones that we have are very good and very helpful, but the unpredictability of supply, the inability to plan and the lack of local flexibility are all leading to sub-optimal outcomes, when we could have better outcomes.

So today I call on the Minister, once again, to get the vaccines to the local providers and to provide local authorities with additional support, so that they can do the chasing, as is the case in my local authority. What we have seen is that when GPs are responsible for getting vulnerable patients, including homebound patients, vaccinated in my borough, 95% of those patients have been vaccinated. So this is not rocket science; we can address the gaps.

I am grateful to the Minister for the work that he has done so far and I appreciate that in him we have a listening ear. I hope that he listens to the arguments that have been made—not just by Members in my party, but by Members in his own: we have to get the supplies in. Going forward, as other colleagues have pointed out, we also need to address some of the deeper underlying conditions and to make sure that people’s vulnerabilities are addressed.

There is one final issue. Ramadan is coming, so we are in a race against time to vaccinate vulnerable constituents from the Muslim community in our city, because if we do not vaccinate them there will be even greater risks. So I hope the Minister will address that point, as well as the importance of getting more supplies into London—