Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Gareth Johnson.)
I thank Mr Speaker for granting this debate, which is the first such debate on the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 since 24 March 2015.
Vaccines have been our major public health defence against covid-19. This debate is not about all those millions who have benefited from vaccination; it is about the tens of thousands who did the right thing, were vaccinated but then, as a result, suffered death, serious injury or other life-changing adverse consequences. The vaccine damage payment scheme was extended to cover covid-19 vaccinations in recognition of the potential importance of this issue.
I am delighted that the Prime Minister also clearly believes that this is an important issue. On 11 August last year, he wrote to Kate Scott, whose husband Jamie, a fit 44-year-old software engineer, spent 124 days in hospital following severe brain injury caused by the vaccine. The Prime Minister said, referring to Kate’s husband Jamie and his family from Warwickshire,
“you’re not a statistic and must not be ignored”.
The Prime Minister went on to thank Kate Scott for her suggested changes to the vaccine damage payment scheme and promised that the Government would consider the case for reform.
Why, then, is there no tangible evidence of the Government having done anything in the six months since the Prime Minister said those words? The Government have repeatedly blocked my Covid-19 Vaccine Damage Bill, which was briefly debated in this House on 10 September. Why have they not even uprated the £120,000 payment under the scheme to take account of inflation since 2007, when it was last reviewed? On this basis, the maximum should now be over £177,000. Why have no payments yet been made under the scheme, even where a full inquest has established that the vaccine was the cause of death?
That, sadly, is the situation of Lisa Shaw’s family. The 44-year-old BBC Radio Newcastle presenter died from a brain haemorrhage confirmed by a coroner in August as having been caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine, as reported in The Sunday Telegraph on 5 December 2021. Another case about which somebody has written to me arose from a decision by the Westminster coroner who recorded the AstraZeneca vaccine as the cause of death on her mother’s death certificate. Neither of those families is yet to receive any acknowledgement that they qualify under the VDPS, let alone that they will be compensated. Are the Government disputing these coroners’ verdicts? I sincerely hope not, and perhaps the Minister can confirm that in her response.
The Sunday Times reported on 27 February this year that 920 coronavirus vaccination injury claims had been registered, but none has been accepted or been the subject of any payment. That article referred to Zion Spit, described as “a ridiculously healthy” 48-year-old antique dealer from Cumbria, whose death was confirmed as having been caused by the vaccine. His partner of 21 years and fiancée, Vikki Spit, has been in touch with me to express her solidarity with my efforts to obtain redress from the Government and her frustration at the Government’s refusal to engage with victims and their families.
Will the Minister please tell us now when the first payments will be made under the VDPS, and why, despite having told me that 26 staff are now processing claims—11 more than in December—no payments have yet been made? Will she also say how many medical assessors are currently reviewing outstanding cases, and when the backlog will be cleared?
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing forward this debate. He has been a doughty campaigner on this issue, and we all recognise that and wish him well. Does he not agree that while it is right and proper that we have confidence in the vaccine—including those of us who have taken the vaccine; the two doses and then the extra one—there are undoubtedly occasions where things go wrong, as he has outlined, and on those occasions there should be appropriate compensation? The Government and the Minister have a duty of care, and indeed a moral obligation to stand up for those people, and when it comes to being appropriately compensated, that must move in line with the times and reflect not just the loss alone, but dealing with the consequences.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. I describe him as a veteran of this issue, because he was one of the Members who participated in the 2015 debate to which I referred.
Many of those who have written to me have indicated that even a payment of £177,000 would be totally inadequate for the injuries and financial losses that they have suffered, including loss of earnings and the cost of care. The range of adverse conditions caused by the vaccines is extensive. By way of example, Mr Julian Gooddy of Henley has given me permission to disclose his circumstances because of his frustration at the lack of understanding by the Government.
Two weeks after his vaccine, Mr Gooddy experienced acute pain throughout his body. He developed Bell’s palsy, required treatment for his left eye, which would not close, and suffered bowel incontinence and severe fatigue. Peripheral numbness and pain in his upper legs, feet, neck and hands then developed. He was in and out of the accident and emergency department at the John Radcliffe Hospital for two weeks, being prescribed steroids, pain killers and undertaking multiple MRI and CT scans, electromyographs and nerve conduction studies. He then collapsed at home in pain and was admitted as an in-patient for five days of intravenous immunoglobulin in an effort to halt the continuing nerve damage caused by the autoimmune response to the vaccine. He was then diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own myelin sheath.
Does my hon. Friend the Minister, having listened to the circumstances of Mr Gooddy, believe that his case meets the 60% disablement threshold? I have received so many other reports of complicated symptoms, which have been a real nightmare for our hard-working NHS to address and for which there are, in many cases, no cure.
As we can tell from the distressing stories that my hon. Friend is telling, this is an important debate, and I regret the empty Chamber. He is a brave Member of the House who speaks his own mind in defiance of conventional wisdom. Does he agree that the same goes for a large number of doctors and scientists who are also defying conventional wisdom to raise concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, particularly when it comes to the vaccination of children, which the Government are now encouraging? Does he also agree that the Government should be as transparent and open as possible about the risks and the safety and efficacy of the vaccines?
Absolutely. I have been in correspondence with constituents who work at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and Poole Hospital who have expressed their concerns. One of the reasons many people with medical expertise are worried about it is that they have seen such examples in their work.
My hon. Friend refers to the issue of encouraging more child vaccines to be administered, but if we are going to do that, as well as it being important for the parents of those children to appreciate the risk as they are thinking about it, surely we should be able to give them the secure knowledge that if something goes wrong and if against everybody’s expectations, those vaccines turn out to have dire and life-changing consequences that last for 40 or 50 years or longer, the Government are on their side. At the moment, I am afraid that there is no evidence that the Government are on the side of those hapless victims of vaccine damage.
In recent months, I have received hundreds of emails reporting deaths and serious illnesses involving immune thrombocytopenic purpura, which causes the number of blood platelets to be reduced. On 10 January, in question 100420, I asked the Minister what was being done to investigate the 427 suspected cases of that and if the Government will make it their policy to inform those affected of the availability of the vaccine damage payment scheme.
Following my point of order yesterday, complaining about the Government’s failure to respond to my questions, I received a response from the Minister yesterday evening, which stated:
“Following a scientific assessment of all the available data and a review by the Commission on Human Medicines’ COVID-19 Vaccines Benefit Risk Expert Working Group, it was determined that an association between the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and TTS”—
thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome—
I hope that she will unravel the jargon in that answer and confirm in simple terms that that means that in the cases to which I have referred, causation has now been established and there should be no bar to the compensation scheme coming into effect.
Will the Minister also answer the part of my question relating to whether the Government will notify those 427 families affected by that particular aspect of the availability of the VDPS? Surely that would be the most basic humane response. Why have the Government not responded to that at all? As you can probably tell, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is making me angry. In my point of order, I referred to five other named day questions that had not been answered and they remain unanswered. Will she apologise and explain?
Many correspondents from constituencies across the United Kingdom remain sceptical about whether they will qualify under the VDPS. The issue has all the hallmarks of becoming a bureaucratic nightmare for victims and their families. Why should the Government force those people to go through the ordeal and delay of having to seek expensive legal help instead of enabling their representatives in Parliament to be given the information necessary to establish their claims? That is why those parliamentary questions and this debate are relevant, because it would enable our constituents to establish their claims without having to go to the law.
The scale of this vaccine nightmare is now such that the number of vaccine damage cases exceeds all cases arising from previous vaccine programmes. In answer to question 92799, the Minister confirmed that, as at 15 December 2021, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency had received and analysed a total of 410,232 yellow card reports: 145,446 from people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 240,065 from those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine and 24,721 from those who received the Moderna vaccine. Some patients were reported to have died shortly after vaccination: 666 in the Pfizer reports, 1,164 in the AstraZeneca reports and 23 in the Moderna reports. There are people dying from this vaccine, but not many—well, actually quite a large number, and far more than we see in the tragedies that quite rightly detain this House for hours on end. I think this is a tragedy that demands the attention of the House and of the Minister.
As not all those who died shortly after vaccination will have died because of the vaccine, I thought it was fair to ask a further question as to the number of such cases where the yellow card analysis showed that the death would have happened regardless of the vaccine or medicine being administered. I asked this question to help promote vaccine confidence and to prevent inaccurate conclusions from being reached. Much to my disappointment and dismay, that question has not been answered in a timely fashion or at all. Why not, one asks? Surely the Government must have this information, and their failure to produce it can only help further raise suspicions of a lack of transparency. The Government almost seem to be in denial about all this.
The reluctance of the Government to provide timely information is further exemplified by the delay in updating the information provided as at 15 December. Almost three months have now elapsed since then, and the Government have ducked my further question about sharing the results of the MHRA analysis of yellow cards for patients in respect of whom they were received. Since the last report, we have had a mass of booster vaccines, and some people have written to me saying that they have suffered dire consequences as a result.
I expect that, in her response, the Minister will point out that the vaccine damage payment scheme does not preclude individuals from bringing claims against the manufacturers for product liability. We know, however, that the Government decided to indemnify and thereby exclude manufacturers from potential liability, but we do not know the terms. In her answer to question 92800 of 14 February 2022, the Minister said that her Department is
“providing indemnities in the unexpected event of any adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures put in place.”
She said, however, that she was unable to provide information about the terms of those contracts between the Government and vaccine manufacturers as they are commercially sensitive. In those circumstances, should those who have suffered adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures put in place be making claims against the Government or the manufacturers, or both? I hope the Minister is listening to this question, because it is in the public interest that she gives a definitive answer. People are champing at the bit in wondering whether they need to make claims against the manufacturers or the Government, or whether they can rely on the VDPS.
In introducing the vaccine damage payment legislation in 1979, the then Secretary of State for Social Services, David Ennals, referred to the “humane motivation” of the legislation, and said that
“it is important, since its aim is to provide a measure of financial support to people severely disabled as a result of vaccination, and to their families and others involved in looking after them. There can be no doubt that those concerned pay a high price in terms of personal disablement…and that their families share in that price.
For most people, vaccination is a beneficial procedure, and it is right for the community to give financial aid and support to those who suffer as the result of vaccinations given as part of the public policy programme.”—[Official Report, 5 February 1979; Vol. 962, c. 32.]
That is what he said all those years ago, and those sentiments remain as relevant as ever today. I hope that, as a result of this debate, the Government will, through their actions, show that they share those sentiments. As the Prime Minister said, the victims of covid-19 vaccine damage are not statistics and “must not be ignored”—not for any longer, anyway.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for bringing this debate to the Floor of the House; it is an important debate that raises important questions.
Vaccinations are an effective health intervention which can save lives and promote good health. We have one of the best immunisation programmes in the world and are at the forefront of rolling out new initiatives, and I am very proud that the vaccine programme has been a key factor in getting us through the covid pandemic. However, as my hon. Friend pointed out, there are extremely rare and very sad circumstances where individuals have experienced severe disablement with a possible link to the vaccine.
The VDPS that we are debating today is one of the many ways in which the Government support individuals and their families where that has happened. It recognises that vaccines themselves remain the best way to protect us, particularly against covid, and that people have done the right thing in coming forward and having the vaccine. I want to assure people today that the vaccine is safe, and we are still encouraging people to have their vaccination, but I do recognise that some people have had experiences from the vaccine that we need to address, and that my hon. Friend is asking very important questions.
I know my hon. Friend the Minister is about to talk about the types of support available, so I want to make my pitch at this point: I have a wonderful 38-year-old female constituent, a mother of three, who after her first shot of AstraZeneca has had horrendous, life-limiting conditions. The NHS seems to have closed its doors to her: for 10 months she has been asking for help, but no one will give it. She has had to go to Germany to get the specialist blood analysis she needs. So can the Minister kindly say what medical ongoing support and pathways the NHS has created within its support specifically to ensure that people like my constituent get the help they so desperately need to live healthier, happier lives?
If my hon. Friend contacts me after the debate I will be happy to find out what specific help is available for her constituent in the local area. But we do have a robust safety mechanism in place, dealing with not just covid vaccines but all medicines, and the VDPS was established in 1979 as a one-off, tax-free payment, with the aim of easing the financial burden on individuals when, on very rare occasions, vaccination has caused severe disablement.
For the specific groups of vaccines that are covid-related, the Prime Minister announced on 21 September 2021 that responsibility for the operation of the VDPS would transfer from the Department for Work and Pensions to us in the Department of Health and Social Care on 1 November 2021. We are picking up that mantle and are working at pace to address the many issues my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has raised.
Will the compensation scheme to which the Minister referred apply across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—will people in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales qualify if they have ailments such as those to which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) referred?
My understanding is that it does, but I will clarify that for the hon. Gentleman as I do not want to inadvertently mislead the House if I have got it wrong.
The NHS Business Services Authority has taken over the process and is looking to improve the claimant journey on the scheme through increasing personalised engagement and reducing response times, which was one of the points made today. A difficulty we have with the covid-19 vaccines is that they are new; we are still learning about them and the scientific evidence on potential causal links between the vaccine and instances of disablement is still developing. That is part of the reason for the delay in claims being addressed.
My hon. Friend will not have time to answer all my questions, so will she meet me to discuss the issues I have raised that she is unable to deal with now? Also, on this issue of evidence, does she require more evidence than a coroner’s verdict to enable the relatives of somebody who died following the vaccine to get compensation?
The ruling on a causal link between a medicine and an adverse event, and whether that has led to death or injury, is made by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority. A process has to be followed—the process is independent of Government —and that has started on this range of vaccines. It remains vital that decisions are made on the evidence presented. Currently, the MHRA is going through the notes of affected patients to gather that evidence and look for causal links.
If these vaccines were perhaps five, six or seven years old, we would be in a very different place. However, as of 18 February this year, there have been 920 claims to the vaccine damage payment scheme related to covid-19. The work currently going on is establishing whether there is a causal link between the vaccine and the adverse events that people have been suffering. The yellow card scheme, which we have for all medicines, helps us to gather information, and I encourage people, whether they have had severe or minor symptoms—whatever they are—to report them, because that is how we gather evidence on medicines.
For all the claimants who have applied to the VDPS in relation to covid-19, while we are gathering evidence from their medical records, the approach will be to look at the assessment criteria and ensure that we are in the strongest possible position before we put the evidence to the medical examiner. That in turn will help ensure that claims are assessed as quickly as possible. We think that will take about six months. I will certainly meet my hon. Friend and ensure that we hold people’s feet to the fire so that there is not a longer delay than is needed. The NHSBSA is working as quickly as possible to progress claims. I understand that it has been in touch with claimants to update them on progress and will continue to update them as it has news.
We estimate that the process will take on average six months. It requires gaining access to people’s medical notes and their previous medical history, because, while someone may have had a reaction on the day, we cannot say for sure until we have looked at all the evidence that that is a causal link between the vaccine and the adverse event, even though there may be a strong suggestion that it is. It is therefore important to follow that process correctly.
My hon. Friend touched on payments. The payment was set originally at £10,000 in 1979, and it is currently £120,000. We have not made any payments in relation to the covid vaccine, but we are working at pace through all applications to the scheme and, once a causal link is established in those cases, we can look at those claims more swiftly.
I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to a meeting to discuss the further issues that she cannot cover tonight. On the £120,000 payment, that has not increased since 2007, so in effect it should now be worth £177,000. Why will the Government not give in on that point? That would be a great victory tonight.
I am not going to commit tonight to increasing the payment—I think that is above my pay grade. Perhaps we can discuss that further when we meet.
I reassure people watching the debate and right hon. and hon. Members that the safety of the covid vaccine and its benefits outweigh any adverse events that may be caused by it. With any medicine—even a simple paracetamol—if people look at the yellow forms and the side effects mentioned on the leaflet in the packet, they will see that there are always side effects. We want to reassure people that the vaccine is still a safe and effective way of protecting them and their loved ones from the virus. However, where there have been concerns, we need to identify causal links and, if they are established, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) pointed out, we must be better at supporting people. I am very keen to do that.
Although these vaccines have been with us for nearly two years, they are still new in the lifespan of medicines and we are still learning about both their efficacy and their side effect profile. Each vaccine is assessed by a team of scientists and clinicians on a case-by-case basis. We are acting at pace, although it can feel like a long time for people affected by side effects. I will meet my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to discuss the matter further. I am keen to get support and payment in place for those affected, if we can, as quickly as possible.
Question put and agreed to.