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Covid-19: Vaccine Roll-out

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 12 January 2021

I am proud that the NHS began vaccinating patients against covid-19 on 8 December, at the start of the biggest immunisation programme in British history. I am delighted to tell the House that more than 2.3 million people in the UK have now received the first dose of their covid-19 vaccine. Over the coming weeks and months, the rate of vaccination will increase as more doses become available and the vaccination programme continues to expand.

Thousands of elderly and vulnerable people across Kirklees have already been vaccinated, but some of my constituents are rightly worried that they may have to travel to large vaccination centres in other parts of the country to get their jabs. Will the Secretary of State please confirm that all my constituents will be able to get their jabs locally? When will the new vaccination centre at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s stadium be opening?

Everybody will be able to get a jab locally. We are committed to ensuring that across England a local vaccination centre will be available within 10 miles of where everyone lives. For the vast majority of people—over 95%—this will be a fixed, permanent site. For some of the most rural parts—more rural than my hon. Friend’s constituency—there will be mobile units. If people get called to a mass vaccination centre and they feel it is too far for them to travel, they will be able to get a vaccine locally through one of the local GP services. I am delighted that the centre at the John Smith’s stadium in Huddersfield is going to be opening in the next couple of weeks.

I very much welcome the great work by my Government colleagues to secure the vaccine supplies for all parts of the United Kingdom and the amazing work of NHS staff to ensure that the vaccines are being delivered into people’s arms as quickly as possible. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many vaccines have been delivered by the UK Government for use in Scotland?

We distribute the vaccine supplies that are available according to population, so it is based on the Barnett formula. In Scotland, of course, the Scottish NHS is delivering. A fair population share of vaccine is available to the Scottish NHS—that is available right now, so the stocks are there—and then it is for the NHS in Scotland to do the vital work of making sure that each and every one of those jabs gets into somebody’s arm and helps to protect lives.

The vaccination programme in York is making encouraging progress, with the first doses of the Oxford vaccine having arrived last week and Askham Bar and Haxby centres delivering injections in line with the priority list, which is fantastic news. However, can the Secretary of State reassure me that every care is being taken to ensure that smaller GP practices in rural areas are in no way disadvantaged in scheduling their patients for vaccination relative to the larger urban practices?

Yes, of course. Small or large, rural or urban, we need GPs to be vaccinating right across the country, and that is what is happening. We are organising it through what are called primary care networks, which are groups of GPs that cover between 30,000 and 50,000 patients. The reason we are doing that is so that each of a group of GP practices can contribute some staff to the vaccination team so that they can carry on with the other vital work that they are doing. The networks are of course larger in more sparsely populated parts of the country such as North Yorkshire, but nevertheless we have put in place the commitment to everybody having a vaccination centre within 10 miles of where they live, to make sure that we reach all parts.

There is welcome news that St James’ Hospital in my constituency is to become a vaccination centre, and constituents are eager to see it up and running. Will the Secretary of State confirm when the hard-working staff and volunteers on the ground will receive the doses and equipment that they need to open the centre?

I am really delighted to highlight that news and I am also glad that, as the hon. Gentleman has just demonstrated, this is a national effort that we can all play our part in. The cross-party support that we and the NHS have received for the vaccination effort is incredibly welcome, and I know that the NHS team on the ground will really appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s support. The kit will be delivered on time—over 98% of vaccines have been delivered on time. Of course, in a very large logistical exercise there is always the occasional hiccup, but I will get back to the hon. Gentleman and make sure that the Minister for covid vaccine deployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), gets back to him with the precise details of when the kit will arrive at his local hospital.

It is fantastic news that 2.3 million people across the whole of the UK have already received the first dose of this vaccine. Businesses and venues across Milton Keynes are queuing up to offer their support for the vaccination programme, including the wonderful ECG Training, where I went for a covid test last week—I passed by the way, Mr Speaker. Can the Secretary of State tell us what the plan is for accepting these kind offers of help and support with the vaccination programme?

I am really delighted that ECG Training is involved in hosting some of the testing centres. We have had amazing offers of support in the form of places that are now being used as testing centres and as some of the 1,000-plus vaccination centres across the country. We have been working since the summer with some sites to ensure that they were ready to be vaccination centres. We are always open to further offers of support, but I would say that we have been working on this for some time. It is also important that, for infection control reasons, testing centres and vaccine sites that are put in the same place are kept separate, not least because we want to make sure that when an octogenarian goes for a vaccine, they are kept safe in the process of getting that vaccine. The thing to do is raise this specific offer of support with the Minister responsible for vaccine deployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his help in getting the vaccine into our Ironstone Centre, Scunthorpe Hospital, and, I am really pleased to say, some of our care homes, too. Can he tell us how the new Oxford vaccine will speed up access to the jab for those still waiting and what that means for towns and villages in my area, such as Hibaldstow, Scawby, Kirton in Lindsey, and Messingham? Will they see more local vaccination centres?

It is so important to get the vaccine to care homes. Over a quarter of care home residents have now received their first dose of the vaccine, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is much easier to get to care homes. We will be doing that by taking the vaccine to the care home rather than opening new centres, but I want people in Hibaldstow, Scawby, Kirton in Lindsey, Messingham and throughout the Scunthorpe constituency to know that they will be within 10 miles of a vaccination centre, because we know how important it is that everybody can access this vaccine.

May I also thank the five GP vaccination centres serving my constituency in Brigg, Goole, Owston Ferry, Scunthorpe and Barton? They are doing a cracking job at getting this vaccine out. As we move from phase 1 into phase 2, the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation has advised that we can start looking at particular occupations. May I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind shop workers who have had to work throughout this pandemic, including at the beginning, without any protection, and who deal with hundreds of people every day? Can we make sure that they are prioritised, as we move from phase 1 into phase 2?

Yes, I want to thank shop workers in essential shops who have to be there for all of us, even in these difficult times when the virus is widely spread. We will be looking very carefully at those professions that will need to be prioritised in phase 2 of the prioritisation programme. We will look at teachers, police and others, but we will also look at shop workers and will make those decisions based on the data.

I commend my right hon. Friend for what he is doing in terms of the vaccine roll-out. Across West Yorkshire, we have four large-scale vaccination centres planned, but that means that we have one in the Bradford district. May I put in a plea to have a large-scale vaccination centre in Keighley? Can we also consider as vaccination centres smaller-scale offerings that are coming forward from places such as Ilkley Rugby Club?

I will absolutely look at those two suggestions. I also remind my hon. Friend, all of his constituents and all those across the Bradford district that, yes, there are the large-scale vaccination centres, but there is also the primary care-based delivery, which is happening right across the country.

It has been reported that Pinnacle, the IT system being used to organise the vaccinations, is already struggling to cope with heavy usage. My local GP vaccination hub, which I visited on Friday, reported that it was being slow, and there have also been worrying reports about very elderly people having to queue for a long time outdoors while staff try to get the IT system working. Will the Secretary of State please confirm what action the Department is taking to ensure that the systems work more efficiently, and will be able to cope as the number of vaccination sites grows?

Clearly, the IT underpinnings of this project are critical. The Pinnacle system is working well, but we are constantly monitoring it to make sure that it supports the roll-out of the vaccine.

Our sense of encouragement at the roll-out of the vaccine is tempered by our deep alarm at the situation we are in. Over 80,000 people have died. On current trends, we are likely to see more deaths in this wave than we saw in the first. Millions still have to go to work and the virus is now more infectious. Those still going to work of course include NHS staff, and the British Medical Association says that 46,000 of them are off sick with covid. Can the Secretary of State go further and faster, and ensure that frontline NHS staff receive the vaccination in the next two weeks? Will he provide daily updates on the numbers of NHS staff who have been vaccinated?

We do now provide daily statistics on the roll-out of the vaccine, and we will provide more data as the system matures and the roll-out advances. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the challenges that the NHS is facing today. Although the roll-out of the vaccine is proceeding well and we are on track to hit the targets that we have set, we must also stress to everybody the importance of following the rules that are in place to control this virus and reduce the pressures on the NHS, which are very considerable at this moment.

We all understand that, until vaccination is rolled out more generally, we will continue to see hospitalisations. The NHS is currently in a crisis: beds are filling up; intensive care unit surge capacity is being maxed out; ambulances are backed up outside hospitals; and there are warnings about oxygen supplies. Hospitals were not built for these demands on oxygen, so can the Secretary of State assure us that there are contingencies in place, and can he guarantee that no hospital will run out of oxygen in the coming weeks?

There are very significant pressures on the NHS. On the specific question about oxygen supplies, the limitation is not the supply of oxygen itself; it is the ability to get the oxygen through the physical oxygen supply systems in hospitals. That essentially becomes a constraint on an individual hospital’s ability to take more covid patients, because the supply of oxygen is obviously central to the treatment of people with covid in hospital. As we have a national health service, if a hospital cannot put more pressure on its oxygen system, we take people to a different hospital. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no constraint that we are anywhere near on the national availability of oxygen—oxygenated beds. As he knows and as we have seen reported, sometimes patients have to be moved to a different location—as local as possible, but occasionally across the country—to ensure that they get the treatment that they need.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State revealed that only a quarter of care home residents in England had been vaccinated against covid, despite being the No. 1 priority group. Can he explain why they were not the first cohort to receive the Pfizer vaccine in December, as was the case in Scotland?

That is not quite right. I am glad to report that care home residents have been receiving the Pfizer jab. That is harder—logistically more difficult. Looking at the total roll-out of the programme, I am delighted that, as the hon. Lady says, over a quarter of people who are residents in care homes are now able to get the jab, and that number is rising sharply.

We return to Dr Whitford. [Interruption.] Dr Whitford’s second question has disappeared, so we will move on.