I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 602171, relating to the safety of covid-19 vaccines.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I will read out the prayer of the petition, which states:
“There has been a significant increase in heart attacks and related health issues since the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines…This needs immediate and full scientific investigation to establish if there is any possible link with the Covid-19 vaccination rollout.
It is the duty of the Government to ensure that the prescribed medical interventions of its response to Coronavirus are safe. We believe that the recent and increasing volume of data relating to cardiovascular problems since the Covid-19 vaccine rollout began is…enough…to warrant a full Public Inquiry.”
The petition has amassed over 107,000 signatures, including signatories from my own Carshalton and Wallington constituency. I put on record my gratitude to the Petitions Committee Clerks and the team behind the scenes for organising today’s debate, and particularly to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—the MHRA —which recently briefed me on its vaccine safety surveillance strategy. Throughout my speech, I will point out why I do not think that the Government should launch a public inquiry into vaccine safety; it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money, and is not necessary for reasons that I will discuss.
The covid-19 vaccine has been the subject of four previous e-petitions debates in Westminster Hall, and of many other parliamentary debates, many questions and much Committee work since the pandemic hit. It is worth remembering that, for the first 26 months of the pandemic, over 178,000 people across the UK died within 28 days of a positive covid-19 test. It remains my position that vaccination is the single most effective way to reduce deaths and severe illness from covid-19.
More than 53 million people in the UK have received at least their first covid-19 vaccine, and I put on record my thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers who contributed to that gargantuan operation, which was a shining example of effective national collaboration. I would go so far as to say that, in the public inquiry into covid, the Government should look at how the vaccine roll-out was such a success, how we can learn from that success and how we can apply those lessons in future circumstances.
My hon. Friend has obviously done a lot of preparation for the debate. Did part of that preparation include looking at Oracle Films’ “Safe and Effective: A Second Opinion”, which was produced about a month ago and has already had more than 1 million views online? Most people think it highly persuasive.
I have not seen that publication, although I have read a lot of the significant amounts of material that have been shoved through my constituency office door by a large number of anti-vax protesters, who have flyposted my office on no less than a dozen occasions, and intimidated my 18-year-old apprentice and the people who live above my constituency office. Given that the content of that literature includes climate change denial, moon landing denial and so on, I am inclined to ignore it completely.
It is impossible to vaccinate every person in the country, nor should vaccines be thrust upon people without their consent. People have a right to know what is put in their bodies, and have the autonomy to decide whether to have a vaccination. It is therefore the job of the state to ensure not only that vaccines are safe for use and continually reviewed, but that knowledge of why they are safe and effective is communicated well to our constituents.
With that in mind, I will briefly outline the steps taken to review the safety of covid-19 vaccines before the roll-out, and the continuous monitoring of vaccine safety. All vaccines must be tested through a series of clinical trials to establish their efficacy and safety, and must have a product licence before they can be made available for widespread use in humans.
The MHRA is responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the UK by ensuring they work and are acceptably safe. Starting in 2020, a dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, detailed scientific review of all the available data in the development of covid-19 vaccines, including from laboratory pre-clinical studies, clinical trials, manufacturing and quality controls, product sampling and testing of the final vaccine, and it considered the conditions for the vaccine’s safe supply and distribution.
In early June 2020, the MHRA set up an independent expert working group to begin some of the most important safety work. In August 2020, a second working group was formed with different expertise, this time to advise the MHRA on the benefits and risks of the vaccines in development. The groups were formed of 48 experts from outside the MHRA, including virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists and toxicologists.
In September 2020, the MHRA started preparing laboratories for independent batch testing of the vaccine. Although the vaccine manufacturers carried out their own comprehensive testing regimes on the batches of products they produced, it is vital that tests focusing on safety and quality are conducted independently too. In the UK, the independent testing is performed by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, which is part of the MHRA. Before any batch testing can reach the public, the NIBSC must conduct a rigorous assessment to check that it is consistent with characteristics derived from results from batches previously shown to be safe, and from effective clinical trials or routine clinical use. That work began in November 2020.
The covid-19 vaccines were developed in a co-ordinated way that allowed some stages of the assessment processes to happen in parallel, which enabled the producers and regulators to condense the time normally needed. That rolling review allowed the MHRA to review data as it became available from ongoing studies, rather than waiting.
My hon. Friend talks about the independence of the MHRA, and I very much hope he is right about that. Is he aware that it is overwhelmingly funded by the pharmaceutical companies that it regulates? Does he have any concerns about the objectivity of its work?
No, I see nothing to concern me about the independence of the MHRA. Indeed, I saw a group of anti-vax protesters outside the House today, holding up signs saying, “Vaccines kill,” and, “Would you not believe that pharmaceutical companies kill?” It seems a bit of a strange business model for a pharmaceutical company to kill off everyone it is trying to administer a vaccine to. I have seen absolutely nothing to concern me that the MHRA has any problems with independence.
For previous vaccines, we have had to wait for a full package and for each stage to be finished before moving on to the next stage. That is one of the reasons that the covid-19 vaccine was developed at such speed; corners were not cut, but the model was changed.
Pfizer and BioNTech fed the MHRA data to be assessed even before the final clinical submission in November 2020. Once it was submitted, scientific and clinical experts robustly and thoroughly reviewed it with scientific rigour, looking at all aspects, including the laboratory studies, the clinical trials and more. That included assessing the level of protection the product provides and how long that protection is provided for, as well as its safety, stability and how it needs to be stored.
On top of that, the MHRA has a range of experts inspecting the sites used across the whole lifecycle of the vaccine, from its initial development in a lab to its manufacture and distribution once approved. The inspectors work to legislation that incorporates internationally recognised clinical standards. The MHRA seeks advice from the Commission on Human Medicines, the Government’s independent advisory body, which critically assesses the data before advising the UK Government on the safety, quality and effectiveness of any potential vaccine.
I wish I could delve deeper into the specifics of how and why vaccines work, but we would be here all night and I do not want to duplicate the work that has been done in other debates. Nevertheless, I hope I have managed to demonstrate succinctly the rigorous scientific testing that occurs prior to a vaccine being distributed in the UK. However, the main premise of much of the literature that has been distributed about the impact of the covid-19 vaccine and the nationwide roll-out needs to be looked into. As part of its statutory functions, the MHRA continually monitors the use of vaccines to ensure that their benefits continue to outweigh any risks. This monitoring strategy is continuous, proactive and based on a wide range of information sources, with a dedicated team of scientists reviewing information daily to look for safety issues or unexpected events.
My hon. Friend is making a good speech. My constituent Gareth Eve lost his wife Lisa Shaw when she was only 44, as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He is not an anti-vaxxer. Although the debate is on the broad issue, does my hon. Friend agree that matters such as how families get compensation could be dealt with much better, even if he does not agree with a full public inquiry into the entire body of the issue? So many families, including that of my constituent, have been left waiting for that support for a very long time.
I am very sorry to hear of the case of my hon. Friend’s constituent, and I agree that we need to look at compensation and measures when things go wrong. No vaccine is without risk. No medicine is without risk, but that is the balance that we must weigh up when making decisions about our own health.
Let me return to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and how that is monitored. The core of this work is individuals self-reporting any adverse effects post vaccination, and active surveillance of particular groups of adverse events. That is well known as the yellow card scheme. I recently met representatives of the MHRA to be briefed on its vaccine safety surveillance strategy, which has four main pillars, the first of which is enhanced passive surveillance through observed versus expected analysis. The MHRA performs enhanced statistical analysis on data generated through the yellow card scheme to evaluate observed versus expected event reports in order to determine whether more events are occurring after vaccination than might be expected ordinarily. That assists the MHRA to identify when and where vaccine-related side effects are signalled.
Secondly, the MHRA conducts rapid cycle analysis and ecological analysis to supplement the yellow card scheme, which relies on direct reporting. The MHRA also analyses anonymised electronic healthcare records, particularly by way of the clinical practice research datalink Aurum dataset, which captures data from 13 million registered GP patients in the UK. It will track a range of theoretical side effects in order to detect safety signals. The MHRA also performs ecological analysis to monitor trends in high priority vaccination population cohorts—for example, increased trends among the elderly.
Thirdly, the agency performs targeted active monitoring; it has developed a new, voluntary follow-up platform for a randomly selected group of those vaccinated through the NHS. The group is contacted at set intervals to determine the frequency and severity of any vaccine side effects. Finally, there are formal epidemiological studies. The above methods detect signals and patterns but do not necessarily confirm vaccine causation. As such, where necessary, formal epidemiological studies are undertaken to solidify causal links.
As of 28 September 2022, in the UK, 173,381 yellow cards had been reported for Pfizer-BioNTech; 246,393 for AstraZeneca; 42,437 for Moderna; 14 for Novavax; and 1,848 for vaccines where the brand was not specified. For Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna, the reporting rate is about two to five yellow cards per 1,000 doses administered.
The use of the yellow card scheme has been used as an example of why vaccines do not work, but it is important to note that the scheme is a self-reporting system. It cannot be used to prove a causal link between reported symptoms and potential damage caused. The reported reaction could have occurred regardless of the vaccine, or the person reporting could have no knowledge of the relationship between that symptom and the vaccine; it may have occurred even if the person had not been vaccinated altogether. I could get on the phone to the yellow card scheme right now and say that I have a side effect from a vaccine—I could completely make it up. The scheme has no verification process.
I think my hon. Friend is suggesting that the yellow card scheme numbers exaggerate the potential negative effect of the vaccines. Is he aware that the independent MHRA suggests that vaccine injuries have been under-reported by one in 10, meaning that there may be 10 times more vaccine-related injuries than the yellow card scheme reports? Surely, if there is an exaggeration, it is in the opposition direction from the one that he is suggesting.
I am aware of that, but the point I am making is that the yellow card scheme is not a determining factor of damage done by the vaccine; there is no way to prove a causal link, as the reported reaction could have happened anyway. The worldwide awareness of covid, its blanket media coverage over multiple years, and the impact it has had on all our lives, are bound to have led to an increase in reports from previous vaccine roll-outs. Most reports relate to injection site reactions, including a sore arm and generalised symptoms, such as flu-like symptoms, illness, headache, chills, fatigue, nausea, fever, dizziness, weakness, aching muscles or rapid heartbeat. Generally, those reactions are not associated with more serious illness and likely reflect an expected, normal immune response to vaccines.
There have been some occurrences of inflammatory heart conditions following a covid-19 vaccination, but fortunately they are incredibly rare. For Pfizer, the suspected myocarditis reporting rate is 12 reports per 1 million doses. For suspected pericarditis, including viral pericarditis and infective pericarditis, the overall reporting rate is eight reports per 1 million doses. For Moderna, that is 42 per million, and for AstraZeneca four per million.
The events reported are typically mild, with individuals usually recovering within a short time, following standard treatment and rest. The benefits of the vaccines in protecting against covid-19 and the serious complications associated with it far outweigh any currently known side effects. I understand that one of the biggest concerns about vaccine safety is the potential influence on excess deaths. Of course, the excess mortality rates have increased. However, there is no evidence to prove a causal relationship between a spike in excess deaths and covid-19. I am not clinically trained, so I do not wish to preach in this debate, but multiple drivers could have caused the spike, including the impact of missed and delayed diagnoses earlier in the pandemic, and the long-term impact of covid-19 on people who contracted it; and that has been confirmed to me by the MHRA.
In one study this year, researchers estimated how often covid-19 leads to cardiovascular problems. They found that people who had the disease faced a substantially increased risk for 20 cardiovascular conditions in the year after infection with coronavirus. Researchers say that such complications can happen even in people who seem to have completely recovered from a mild infection. With millions—perhaps even billions—of people having been infected with the virus, clinicians are wondering whether the pandemic will be followed by a cardiovascular aftershock. Again, I am not clinically trained, but I wanted to touch on that point to provide some food for thought, because I understand that the issues around excess mortality rates are of extreme importance.
Easily the biggest elephant in the room while discussing the safety of the covid-19 vaccine and a potential inquiry into its safety is that the Government have already announced a public inquiry into their handling of the covid-19 pandemic as a whole. Since the Government responded to the petition, the terms of reference for the UK covid-19 public inquiry have been published by the Cabinet Office. One of the inquiry’s aims is to examine
“The response of the health and care sector across the UK…including the development, delivery and impact of therapeutics and vaccines”.
The first preliminary hearing of module 1 of the inquiry took place just a few weeks ago, with the second due to take place next Monday. The inquiry will further announce modules in 2023 that are expected to cover both system and impact issues, including vaccines, therapeutics and antiviral treatment. I would be grateful if the Minister could shed a bit more light on the aim of the content of the modules that will be investigating the vaccines, and if she could provide more details on how others can contribute towards the process, including those who signed the petition.
I will bring my comments to a close because other Members wish to contribute. I appreciate that for some people the question of whether the covid-19 vaccine is safe is still up in the air, and I understand that my comments may not easily persuade them otherwise. However, we know that vaccines are the best way to protect against covid-19 and they have already saved tens of thousands of lives. I hope that I can offer some reassurance to those who are unsure about this matter that the right steps were taken to ensure that vaccines were safe prior to roll-out, and that vaccines continue to be monitored for their safety and effectiveness. I hope that they can also be reassured by the Minister’s remarks that the Government are including an extensive investigation into the vaccine as part of their covid-19 public inquiry, and that separate investigation is not necessary.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who gave a very good defence of the vaccine programme and of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. I respect that, but I regret his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who raised the point about medical expertise that casts some doubt on the vaccines. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington chose to smear all opponents of the vaccine programme. Of course there are lunatics out there who make absurd and outrageous claims, but there are many reasonable and respectable people who have anxieties about the vaccine programme, particularly people who have suffered as a result of the programme and their families.
I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group on covid-19 vaccine damage, which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch chairs. The APPG looks at vaccine injuries, and we had what I think was our first meeting last week in a Committee room in Portcullis House. I am afraid there were only a tiny handful of colleagues there, but well over a hundred members of the public attended, which is not the usual story for an APPG. I felt somewhat ashamed, on behalf of Parliament, that that was the first time that those members of the public—including families of the bereaved, who are themselves injured citizens—had had the opportunity to be in a room with members of this House, but I am very pleased that we are having this debate, and particularly pleased that there is an opportunity for members of the public to hear from the Minister on this topic.
I should say to members of the public who are watching that we have in Westminster Hall today a very good Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), who is genuinely committed to health, including public health, and she showed a real interest in this topic and in the effect of covid policies when she was a Back-Bench MP.
Although many questions about our covid response need to be answered, the UK is by no means the worst offender. We are not Canada, New Zealand or China—places where Governments think they can exterminate covid by depriving their population of the most basic civil liberties. However, I am afraid that we still have many questions to ask ourselves, and even much to be ashamed of. I put on record that in hindsight I am particularly ashamed of my vote to dismiss care workers who did not want to receive the vaccine. I very much hope that the 40,000 care workers who lost their jobs can be reinstated, and indeed compensated. A group of us—including, I think, the Minister—held out against compulsory vaccination of health workers when that was proposed by the Government last winter. I think that resistance turned the tide, to a degree, on Government policy, and we emerged from the lockdowns more quickly than we might otherwise have done, yet we still have a policy of mass vaccination, which I want to query on behalf of constituents who have written to me about it.
My query starts with a simple point. In October 2020, when preparations were being made for the vaccine roll-out, Kate Bingham, the head of the vaccines agency, said:
“There’s going to be no vaccination of people under 18. It’s an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable.”
Why was vaccination extended to the whole population? I do not think we have ever had a completely satisfactory answer to that question. I ask it again, because my concern is that extending the vaccination programme became an operation in public persuasion—an operation in which dissent was unhelpful or even immoral, and an operation that justified the suppression and even vilification of those who raised concerns.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best vaccine against covid is covid, and many people were naturally immune. There are questions to be asked about the effects of vaccination on the immune system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington made an understandable point about the importance of resisting misinformation. As I mentioned, there are certainly many crazy theories out there to which we need not give credence. If we are talking about a programme of vaccinating the population, it is important that the public are persuaded to do what the Government want them to do, so I understand why the Government should have a public health information campaign. However, it is an essential principle of medical ethics that people must be able to give informed consent before any treatment, and I worry about whether we can say that consent was fully informed in all cases.
Throughout, there has been misinformation in favour of the vaccine. I would not say that was deliberate; it was possibly accidental. We can tell that with hindsight. Perhaps the most egregious example was the claim that the vaccine is 95% effective; as was mentioned earlier, Dr Malhotra presented on this to the APPG last week. That figure refers simply to the relative risk, instead of the actual or absolute reduction in risk to an individual. The absolute risk reduction is really less than 1%.
There was also the widespread claim that the vaccine stops transmission, so people should take the jab to protect other people. We were all told that; we all believed that for many months. Last month, we heard from Pfizer that its vaccine was never tested to see whether it would stop transmission. Despite that, we had the notorious claim by Professor Chris Whitty that even though the vaccine brought no benefit to children, children should be vaccinated to protect wider society. I am all for thinking about society, not the individual, but that, again, feels like a profound break with medical ethics. A lot of people are asking what the vaccine does to children and young people, and Professor Whitty is right that the benefit to healthy children seems to be essentially nil.
There are genuine questions to be asked. I have not verified these questions; I merely ask them on behalf of my constituents. How do we explain the increase in the rates of myocarditis, heart attacks and excess deaths among young people? Indeed, across the general population, it is plausible, though not definitive, that the vaccine is responsible for more harms than we know about. As I said in my intervention, we know from the yellow card scheme that up to one in 200 hundred people vaccinated report an adverse reaction. That is bad enough in itself, but we also know that adverse effects are significantly under-reported through the yellow card scheme. Based on the MHRA’s research, there may be as many as 10 times more serious adverse reactions than the yellow card system shows.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important for the Minister to explain how people who say they have experienced damage from the vaccine can ensure that they are heard? There is the yellow card scheme, the module in the public inquiry, and people can apply for vaccine damage compensation, but there need to be more meaningful ways through which people can be engaged with on their experiences of damage.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady—I absolutely agree. This is a very important moment in which the Minister can hear from Members speaking on behalf of their constituents. I encourage far greater engagement with citizens who have suffered from vaccine damage, or even lost loved ones to it.
There may be innocent explanations for the rather terrifying facts I have mentioned; I very much hope there are. If these are conspiracy theories, we need them to be comprehensively and courteously debunked.
To close, I have four questions for the Minister. First, will she review the vaccination of children? Children have strong naturally acquired immunity, and the chance of death from covid for a healthy child is one in 2 million. I believe we should follow other countries, such as Denmark, and stop vaccinating children altogether. I invite the Minister to review that aspect of the policy.
Secondly, will the Minister make representations in Government, and to Baroness Hallett, on broadening the terms of reference for her inquiry, so that they explicitly include the efficacy and safety of the vaccines? I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington says, and he is absolutely right: the inquiry terms of reference include mention of the vaccination programme and its effects. He may well be right that that is sufficient, and that the review will properly consider the topics that we are discussing. I hope so, but that needs to be made more explicit; I invite the Minister to comment on that.
I wrote to Baroness Hallett, asking her to ensure that the terms of reference specifically covered the safety and impact of vaccines. As a result of representations, not just from me but from others, the terms of reference were amended to make it quite clear that vaccines, their impact and the potential damage done by them are included.
I am grateful for that clarification. It causes me concern to hear that it took my hon. Friend’s representations to ensure that the inquiry will consider the effect of the vaccines. We need to go further and talk about efficacy and safety, not just impact. We need to be explicit about what questions we want answers to. These issues need to be covered directly. We need the public inquiry to consider these matters, because of the compromised nature of medical regulation in our country. I mentioned that the MHRA is funded by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs and vaccines that it regulates. There might be some universe in which that makes sense, but this is not it. I do not think that is right.
Thirdly, we need to do a lot more for the injured and bereaved, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) said. I agree with all the recommendations of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and we will hear from him shortly on what needs to be done to raise the threshold for compensation for the injured, and the speed of payouts. I agree with him that we need clinics for people with adverse reactions, just as we do for people with long covid.
Finally, we need to change the power imbalance. I am sorry, on behalf of Parliament, that this is the first proper debate that we have had on this subject. I regret that victims and families have had to struggle so hard to get engagement of the system. I hope that the Minister agrees to meet some of the people here, and other representatives of families affected by the vaccines, for a proper exchange of information and ideas, and I hope that she will request that Dame June Raine of the MHRA meets them, rather than ignoring letters for months.
A new Government take over this week. I hope that the Minister, who was appointed only recently, will stay in post, and that we can start a new chapter in the story of covid. No more remote power telling people what to do. Let us put truth and justice back into public life, and restore trust in the experts on whom we rely.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I am, as was mentioned, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on covid-19 vaccine damage. The group is now up and running. We had an enormously well-supported meeting in Portcullis House last Thursday. I agree with the legitimate concerns of the 100,000-plus people who signed the petition, and share their belief that the recent data relating to cardiovascular problems, which is increasing in volume, is of enough concern to warrant an inquiry on safety. As I have said, the big Hallett inquiry on covid-19 will cover a lot of this ground, but it will not report for many years. In the meantime, people are being encouraged to have more and more boosters, and they understandably want to know the impact of those boosters on their health and the risks and rewards.
As well as being chairman of the APPG, I have taken an interest in the subject for about a year, and produced a private Member’s Bill on the subject, and I hope to produce another, which will have its Second Reading next month. Coroners up and down the country have found in their reports that deaths have been caused directly by covid 19 vaccines. I have spoken to some of the bereaved; indeed, I spoke to the gentleman referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden)—the gentleman who attended our meeting on Thursday, and whose wife was a journalist in Newcastle. I have seen with my own eyes the suffering of people who are bereaved or still suffering adverse reactions.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), in introducing the debate, did not have much to say about the people who we know have suffered death or serious injury as a result of the vaccines. My hon. Friend showed himself to be rather the victim of producer capture—the producer in this case being the MHRA. He does not seem to have allowed his researches to go further than the MHRA. Has he, for example, looked at what has been happening in Germany? The Paul Ehrlich Institute is the German regulator responsible for vaccine safety. On 20 July, the institute confirmed that one in 5,000 people was seriously affected after a vaccination. That also reflected a finding that it published earlier in the year, in which the institute tried to raise the alert that one in 5,000 vaccinated people experienced a serious side effect, such as heart muscle inflammation. It said that, statistically, every 10th person must expect a severe consequence from having a course of three or four vaccines. The institute uses the World Health Organisation definition of a “serious adverse event”, meaning one that results in hospitalisation or is life-threatening or life-changing. After a course of four doses, the risk of a report to its system of a serious adverse effect is one in 1,250. That is serious information coming from the regulator of a country that is highly respected for the quality of its healthcare.
Is it not interesting that the number of adverse reports referred to the institute is far fewer than the number of adverse reports that led to the 1976 swine flu vaccine being withdrawn? Some hon. Members may recall that, in 1976, the President of the United States, Gerald Ford, was panicked by swine flu into organising a vaccination campaign. When reports emerged of suspected adverse reactions, including heart attacks and Guillain-Barré syndrome, and there were 53 reported deaths, people began to worry about the safety of the vaccine. The Government halted that mass vaccination programme in December of that year. In that case, the Government acted on far fewer adverse events than we have talked about in this debate and decided that, given the balance of risk and reward, it was too risky to continue with the vaccination programme. Let us look at the facts and not just be beholden to the MHRA. If this were a debate about the MHRA, I would have masses of material on it.
The Government seem to be in denial about the risks of these vaccines. Only this morning, the deputy chief medical officer for England was on the radio saying that the boosters were perfectly safe and effective, but they are not perfectly safe, and there is a question about whether they are effective, but that is for another debate. The fact that they are not perfectly safe has now been admitted by the Government. Indeed, the UK Health Security Agency has issued “A guide to the COVID-19 autumn booster”—you may have seen a copy of it, Sir Roger. It requests that people get another booster from their GP. Unfortunately, the cover letter from the NHS makes no reference to any risks associated with the vaccine, but if one looks at the document included in the envelope, it talks about serious side effects. It says,
“Cases of inflammation of the heart (called myocarditis or pericarditis) have been reported very rarely after both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. These cases have been seen mostly in younger men and within several days of vaccination. Most of the people affected have felt better and recovered quickly following rest and simple treatments.”
It then states:
“You should seek medical advice”.
What it does not state is what happens to those people who do not recover. That is what I will concentrate on in the remainder of my remarks. Those people, if they are disabled to the extent of 60% or more, may be eligible for payments under the vaccine damage payment scheme. They might get £120,000. That scheme, however, is not fit for purpose, because its description of disability does not necessarily apply to autoimmune conditions such as those suffered as a consequence of covid-19 vaccine damage. And what about all of those people who are only 59% disabled? There is no financial help for them and, even more worryingly for many, no specific medical help.
The Government refuse to provide specialist help for these vaccine victims. Although they have set up long covid clinics, vaccine victims are being ignored. I have asked parliamentary questions about this, but I have not been able to get a satisfactory answer as to why there are no clinics for those victims of vaccine damage. As a result of the Government’s behaviour, victims are increasingly telling their loved ones, neighbours and friends about their circumstances, which is leading to a much lower rate applications for booster vaccines. That is happening because the Government cannot suppress the information that ordinary people are sharing with one another, even though there is very little on this topic in the mainstream media.
Many people now would not touch a booster with a bargepole, and I include myself among them. I am not anti-vax—I had my first two vaccines—but from all that I have seen and know about this, the increase in boosters is counterproductive for many and dangerous for some. We need to take into account what is happening on the ground. People are becoming increasingly vaccine-hesitant. Large numbers of doctors and health professionals are now calling for a complete halt to the vaccination programme because the risks outweigh the benefits.
The thing to understand is that there is a fundamental difference between these kinds of vaccines and vaccination per se. Vaccination per se has saved millions of lives here and elsewhere, but these vaccines are qualitatively different. Science matters, but much matters more.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the United States, they changed the definition of a vaccine. We have always understood a vaccine to mean someone receiving into their system something containing a small element of that which they were being vaccinated against, so that their system could react against it and protect them if they were later exposed to a large amount. But unlike those old vaccines, these vaccines do not use the raw material, so in many senses it is a misnomer to describe them as vaccines at all. That information is not really out there among the public any more than the fact that the booster vaccines have not been tested on humans at all during studies; they were tested only on mice. People are being used as victims for experimentation, and that is why they are getting worried.
Finally, Oracle Films’ film, “Safe and Effective: A Second Opinion”, is available on YouTube—I make no apology for the fact that I participate in that film—and sets out a different view on the safety of these vaccines. I am not saying we should ban all covid-19 vaccines and have a complete halt. What I am saying is that there is an urgent need for the Government to get to grips with this issue before more people are duped into having vaccines that they probably do not need, that will not do them any good and that will present risks to their health.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I will try to curtail my remarks to six minutes.
This is a hugely important debate and it is overdue. Those people who have questioned the efficacy or safety of the vaccines have generally been cut down and cancelled. That is why this is so important. I do not claim to be any sort of expert, but my degree a long time ago was in genetics, behaviour and biochemistry. Science works by challenge, and the science behind the vaccines has not been allowed to be challenged.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, included 7,806 children aged five or younger who were followed for an average of 91.4 days after their first Pfizer vaccination. The study showed that one in 500 children under five years of age who received a Pfizer mRNA—messenger ribonucleic acid—covid vaccine were hospitalised with a vaccine injury, and one in 200 had symptoms ongoing for weeks or months afterwards. Will the Minister outline the Government’s current policy on vaccination and boosters, and our current policy for the vaccination of children?
Half a per cent. of the children—40 out of the 7,806—had symptoms that were still ongoing and of unknown significance at the end of the trial. That was during a two to four-month follow-up period, so 0.5% of the children had an adverse effect that lasted for weeks or months. In two cases, the symptoms were confirmed to have lasted longer than 90 days. Given that evidence, perhaps the Minister could explain why we are vaccinating healthy children who are at minimal risk from covid. Surely that is in breach of the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. We are not in a situation where we can ask young people to risk their lives to protect older people. In a civilised society, that cannot be the way it works.
According to The Independent in April, more than 1,200 claims have been made to the vaccine damages payment scheme, which entitles successful applicants to £120,000, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), if a causal link between vaccination and severe reaction culminating in injury or death is proven. Does the Minister recognise those figures? Sarah Moore, a lawyer who represents 95 families seeking claims, said that her clients felt “silenced and ignored”, adding that they cannot speak about vaccine harm or linked injuries without being accused of being anti-vax. What is the Minister’s view on victims being labelled as anti-vaxxers?
The Department of Health and Social Care commissions research through the National Institute for Health and Care Research. There is £1.6 million that has been allocated for a programme to understand the rare condition of blood clotting with low platelets following vaccination for covid-19. Does the Minister think that is sufficient? Is there a sufficient breadth of investigation considering all the things we are finding out about the vaccines? Where is the cost-benefit analysis by age group for the vaccines, given the risks that they carry, especially as the pharma companies are now admitting that vaccination does not impact on transmission? Did the Government know, when they mandated vaccines for care and NHS workers, that the vaccines had not been tested to find whether they prevented transmission?
The Florida department of health conducted an analysis through a self-controlled case series, which is a technique originally developed to evaluate vaccine safety. The analysis found that there is an 84% increase in the relative incidence of cardiac-related death among males aged 18 to 39 within 28 days following messenger ribonucleic acid vaccination. With a higher level of global immunity to covid-19, the benefit of vaccination is likely outweighed by that abnormally high risk of cardiac-related death among men in that age group. The recommendation now in Florida is that they do not vaccinate any male under the age of 40.
Florida’s surgeon general, Dr Joseph Ladapo, said:
“Studying the safety and efficacy of any medications, including vaccines, is an important component of public health. Far less attention has been paid to safety and the concerns of many individuals have been dismissed—these are important findings that should be communicated to Floridians.”
I suggest that such important findings should be transmitted to everyone who has had a vaccine or is contemplating a booster. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr Aseem Malhotra at the APPG launch last week. He made a very strong case for the idea that up to 90% of adverse vaccine reactions are not even being reported.
Finally—I wish I had longer to speak—what is the Government’s analysis of the excess deaths that we are suffering in this country, across Europe and in the Americas? Even a casual glance at the data shows a strong correlation between vaccine uptake and the excess deaths in those regions. Surely we must have an investigation. Tens of thousands more people than expected are dying. This is really important, and if we do not get it right, no one will believe us, and trust in politicians, in medicine and in our medical system will be lost. [Interruption.]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. This important debate shows the importance of the petitions process in raising issues that it is essential to explore, even when they are contentious or do not reflect a majority view. The petition has attracted more than 200 signatures from my constituency. In addition, on behalf of my constituents, I have written to Health Ministers a number of times in relation to compensation and individual cases of harm.
The covid vaccine development—the sharing of intellectual property, know-how and scientific endeavour, the rapidity of the regulatory process, and the operational roll-out across the entire country—was truly remarkable. We should rightly be proud of everything that was done to stop the covid pandemic in its tracks. However, we are now a considerable way on since the development of the vaccine, and some sort of ongoing vaccination programme is expected to continue. The dust has now settled, but concerns about a number of medical, regulatory and ethical issues persist, as has been set out.
Constituents have raised with me their considered and researched concerns about their experiences, including variations in the menstrual cycle; the long-term impact on fertility—whether people can have children—cardiovascular concerns; muscle issues, including carpal tunnel syndrome; the triggering of serious autoimmune responses, and much more besides. In the past, concerns about the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, for example, had an adverse impact on take-up before they could be fully allayed, but it is also true that authorised and regulated drugs have caused immeasurable harm and have had to be withdrawn.
It seems that concerns about the vaccine process have been mounting, and they must be considered and addressed, not ignored, if we are to continue to ensure widespread support for a national vaccination programme and confidence in such important drugs. Are the Government considering, accepting and addressing those concerns?
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I commend the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on moving the motion, and I thank all those who signed the petition, including 119 of my Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill constituents. I also thank Members for their thought-provoking contributions to the debate, which I am happy to attend to outline my party’s position on the safety of covid-19 vaccines.
The covid vaccine has saved millions of lives, not just here in the UK but across the world. In the first year of the vaccination programme, 19.8 million out of a potential 31.4 million covid-19 deaths were prevented worldwide, according to estimates based on excess deaths from 185 countries and territories. In Scotland alone, the vaccine saved almost 28,000 lives; that is, an estimated 86% of potential deaths were prevented in Scotland as a result of the vaccination uptake. Thousands of people in Scotland are still alive today because of the coronavirus vaccines. Dr Jim McMenamin, the director of health protection infection services at Public Health Scotland, said:
“This important study shows that thanks to high vaccine uptake among the people of Scotland, and early implementation, the COVID-19 vaccination programme is estimated to have saved more than 27 thousand lives”.
Despite that, there has been a significant increase in heart attacks and related illnesses since the covid-19 vaccinations started to be distributed in 2021. To determine whether there is any connection with the covid-19 roll-out, the Government must conduct an immediate and complete scientific investigation, and ensure that the prescribed medical interventions of their response to coronavirus are indeed safe. As we know, every vaccine used in the UK is subject to approval by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. The vaccination programme has always been guided by the expert advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
This year, the Scottish Government are looking to maximise the co-administration of boosters and flu vaccines, drawing on learning from previous winter vaccination campaigns. I myself will take my booster—on top of the three vaccinations that I have already taken—when I am called to do so. After consideration and discussion with my 14-year-old daughter, she informed me that she will also take her booster when the time comes. Everybody should be able to do so. Everybody eligible for a covid-19 vaccination in Scotland will also be invited for a flu vaccine, and can safely receive both vaccines at the same time and at the same appointment.
The clinical trials of the vaccines have shown them to be effective and acceptably safe. However, as part of its statutory functions, the MHRA continuously monitors the use of vaccines to ensure that their benefits continue to outweigh any risks. For example, during the pandemic, vaccines for pregnant women were initially suggested to be a risk, but the MHRA reassured the public then, as it does now. Its advice remains that the covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and there is substantial evidence to support that advice.
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware, but contradictory evidence was issued on two separate days. One piece of advice said that pregnant and breastfeeding women could have the vaccine, and then another Government body said that that was not safe and that it did not recommend it.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I am sure that, no matter which subject we discuss, there will be pros and cons, and arguments for and against. We believe in the institutions that govern our health in Scotland, and we believe that they will make the right advice available to all our constituents.
More than 11 billion jabs have been administered so far. Johns Hopkins University puts global deaths related to covid-19 at 6.5 million. Although the vast majority of vaccinations do not result in serious adverse effects, there will of course be a small number of incidents in which there are serious problems. Those must be fully investigated. We believe that vaccination is the best course of action, because the danger of injury from coronavirus significantly outweighs the chance of harm from vaccines. It is a cruel truth that some people will experience some adverse effects, including disability and death. We know that a grieving person whose partner passed away recently as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine has now received the first payout under the UK’s compensation mechanism. We must recognise the significance of that. There are severe, legitimate claims of harm from the jag, and they must be respected and listened to. That is vital to maintain faith in the UK’s vaccine programme now and in the future. As those who claim make clear, making claims is not about being anti-vaccine. The concerns are legitimate, and we must listen and learn.
The Scottish Government have set up an independent Scottish covid-19 inquiry to provide scrutiny on the handling of the pandemic and to learn important lessons. The input of bereaved families has been fundamental in developing the Scottish inquiry’s terms of reference, and the Scottish Government are committed to engaging with them. That will be long-lasting. The terms of reference provide adequate breadth for the inquiry to consider the elements that came through strongly in stakeholder engagement. It will be up to the new chair, when appointed, to decide how to investigate the issues listed in the terms of reference. It should not be assumed that a topic or group will be excluded from consideration simply because it is not explicitly referred to.
Following consultation with all the devolved Governments, the UK inquiry’s terms of reference include a number of areas of particular interest to the devolved Governments. The Scottish Government look forward to engaging fully with the UK inquiry to identify the lessons that we all need to learn.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I, too, commend the way the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) opened the debate, and I thank him for his candid support for the vaccine programme.
At the start of September, we had a debate in this very Chamber about the covid-19 vaccine damage payment scheme. I want to begin my speech in the same way as I started my speech in that debate, by saying that the covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective and has saved countless lives. I and the entire shadow Health and Social Care team remain extraordinarily grateful to those who sacrificed countless hours to facilitate our vaccine roll-out.
We are here debating this petition because of the vaccine. Without it, we would probably still be dialling in from our homes—me in Denton, frantically trying to sort my dodgy wi-fi and battling my dog for custody of the study chair. Some 51 million people have been fully vaccinated, and more than 151 million doses have been given in the United Kingdom. Without the vaccine and the extraordinary work of scientists, volunteers and NHS staff, we would not have been able to reclaim the liberties that we were forced to forfeit over the course of the pandemic.
Members from across the House will be aware that all vaccines go through rigorous and ongoing testing procedures. The covid-19 vaccines went through several stages of clinical trials before being approved, and met strict independent standards for safety, quality and effectiveness.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the much-publicised interview of a Pfizer representative by a committee of the European Parliament only a couple of weeks ago, when they admitted that they had done no testing whatever to see whether the vaccination prevented transmission of the virus.
Yes, I heard that. Of course, the issue is that we were protecting the lives of those people who needed the vaccine to be able to get on with their day-to-day lives. The covid vaccines did go through several stages of clinical trials before approval and, as I am sure the Minister will make clear in her response, the MHRA continues to monitor the use of the vaccines to ensure that their benefits outweigh any risks. That is an important fact.
I suspect that they wanted those assurances because of the rapidity of the roll-out. There is an ongoing process of testing the vaccines. These things are kept under review all the time by the scientists, the Government and the Department of Health and Social Care.
As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said, the MHRA operates the yellow card scheme to collect and monitor information on suspected safety concerns. A dedicated team of scientists review information daily to monitor the vaccine roll-out. For this reason, His Majesty’s Opposition and I do not view the ask of this petition—a public inquiry into covid-19 vaccine safety—as necessary.
Serious vaccine side effects are extremely rare, and catching covid-19 without vaccine protection remains overwhelmingly more dangerous than getting the vaccine itself. Where vaccine damage does tragically occur, it is right that individuals and their families can access the vaccine damage payment scheme, which I spoke at length about in September. We must ensure that this scheme remains fit for the future. I did raise some concerns about that in the previous Westminster Hall debate on this issue, because it is important that those who are eligible can access financial support.
The petition claims that there has been
“a significant increase in heart attacks and related health issues since the roll-out of the covid-19 vaccines began in 2021.”
I appreciate the strength of feeling of those who signed this petition, and I do want to understand more from the Minister about any investigations being undertaken by the health authorities and scientists.
I was indeed listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. He should have let me finish the sentence, because I was saying that I want to understand from the Minister what investigations are being undertaken by health authorities to ascertain whether this is actually the case, because there is conflicting information.
The hon. Gentleman talks about a study in Florida. It is important that we take into account all the information from across the globe. There is no data in this country from Office for National Statistics, the MHRA or any other public health body that actually backs that up. Therefore, it is important that all this data is kept under review and scrutinised. I think it is important that the Minister gives us assurances that that is being done.
As the Government made clear in their response to the petition, there have been rare reports of myocarditis and pericarditis. That has informed product information advice for healthcare professionals and patients, as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) pointed out. However, it is worth reenforcing just how rare these specific adverse reactions are. Across all vaccines used in the UK, there has been a reporting rate of just 0.01% for myocarditis and pericarditis. Even where this side effect has occurred, most cases have been mild and individuals have recovered.
There is an awful lot of misinformation regarding vaccine efficacy and safety, and it is vital that any debate about vaccine safety is led by the facts. Could the Minister set out what action she will be taking to tackle vaccine misinformation and to provide accurate reassurance to those who remain hesitant? How will she get robust data out there for proper and effective public scrutiny, so that we can reinforce that efficacy?
I hear a lot in my capacity as shadow Public Health Minister about concerns relating to yellow card reports. To that I reiterate the MHRA guidance, which clearly states:
“Many suspected ADRs reported on a yellow card do not have any relation to the vaccine or medicine”.
The yellow card reporting scheme allows individuals and health professionals to report any suspected reactions or side-effects, even if the reporter is not sure that they were caused by the vaccine. It is often the case that events recorded via the yellow card scheme would have happened anyway.
I feel passionately about tackling vaccine misinformation head-on, because the truth is that we are not in a position to be complacent. In the UK, people are still dying because they have not been vaccinated, and uptake among certain communities is still far too low, but the challenge is also global. More than 20 nations across the world have first-dose vaccine rates of lower than 20%. In Burundi, just 0.2% of people have received their first dose. The United Kingdom has an important role to play in ensuring that low-income countries can access vaccines, but also in making the argument, domestically and on the world stage, that vaccines are safe and effective. That will ensure that we remain better protected not only against covid-19 and potential mutations, but against future pandemics, where trust is a key tool in protecting people and communities across the globe.
This has been an important and wide-ranging debate, and one that I am glad we were able to facilitate. We in this House may have different views on this subject, but we also have a responsibility to protect the health of the people we represent, and that means using our platforms to make it clear that covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective—something that I am sure the Minister will wholeheartedly agree with.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his kind words regarding the covid vaccine programme, and for bringing this important and timely debate to the House. It is timely because we started the covid-19 boosters autumn scheme just a few weeks ago.
Before I respond to the points that have been made in the debate and try to answer all the questions posed by right hon. and hon. Members, I thank Members—particularly those on the Opposition Benches, including the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar)—for their support for the vaccine scheme. I also thank each and every person in the country who has come forward for their jabs, as well as the tens of thousands of NHS staff and volunteers who made that happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked why the vaccine programme had worked so well. It worked so well because of the dedication and hard work of all who were involved in it—from the Government to the NHS, and from the volunteers to pharma. I was honoured to volunteer alongside people from my local area as young as 15 and as old as in their 80s. It was truly a community effort.
The take-up of the covid-19 vaccine has been huge, and over 151 million vaccines have been delivered in the UK, meaning that more than 90% of people aged 12 and over have received at least one dose and more than 40 million have received a booster or third dose. We have also made a great start to the autumn booster campaign. Since the start of the campaign on 5 September, more than 10 million people in England have stepped forward for their jabs.
Our safe and effective vaccines have underpinned the Government’s strategy for living with covid-19. They have allowed the economy and society to reopen, and the country’s ability to live with the virus in the future will continue to depend on deeper and broader population immunity. Critically, they have also reduced the pressure on the national health service and allowed us to start to tackle the elective care backlog.
Vaccines remain our biggest line of defence as we head into a challenging winter period. Vaccinated people are less likely to get seriously ill with covid-19 or seasonal flu, or to be admitted to hospital, and there is also evidence that they are less likely to pass the virus on to others. We know the covid vaccine has saved tens of thousands of lives—that is tens of thousands of mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters who are thankfully still with us.
I am referring to the covid vaccine, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. I take my hon. Friend’s point, but there is no evidence that those deaths were caused by the covid vaccine. Let me acknowledge and pass on my sympathies to the very small number of people for whom vaccines may not have worked as intended, and who may have suffered an adverse reaction from vaccines.
I turn to vaccine safety. All vaccines used in the UK covid-19 vaccine programme are safe. In the UK we have some of the highest safety standards in the world. The MHRA is globally recognised for high standards of quality, safety and medicines regulation. Each covid-19 vaccine candidate is assessed by teams of scientists and clinicians on a case-by-case basis. There are extensive checks and balances at every stage of vaccine development. It is only once each potential vaccine has met robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality set by the MHRA that it will be approved for use.
It is also important to stress that the surveillance of vaccine safety and adverse reactions does not stop once a vaccine has been approved. The MHRA and the UK Health Security Agency constantly review a wide range of available data on the safety of vaccines, including UK and international reports of adverse reactions.
People outside the House will not know that although the Minister has been in her job a relatively short time, she is a remarkably dedicated and diligent person. No Minister is more likely or determined than she is to get to the facts when looking at the international data. Will the Minister give the assurance that she will consider all the information available, including that international data, when she draws conclusions about the content of this debate and the cases that have been made by many of my constituents and others?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words. I will, of course, look at all the evidence. He is aware of my experience as a clinician and he knows that I will look at the evidence-based medical process.
As part of the surveillance into currently used medicines and vaccines, the MHRA continues to review all the suspected adverse drug reaction reports—known as the yellow card reports—relating to covid vaccines, which right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned. Through the MHRA yellow card scheme, members of the public and healthcare professionals can report any suspected side effects. A comprehensive surveillance strategy alerts us to any unforeseen adverse reactions to the vaccine, to enable us to act swiftly when required.
In April 2021, we quickly responded to reports of extremely rare cases of concurrent thrombosis and thrombocytopenia following vaccination with the first dose of AstraZeneca. At that point, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that adults under 30 without underlying health issues should be offered an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca if one was available. That was later extended in May 2021 to adults under 40 without underlying health issues. The MHRA, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said, has undertaken a thorough review of UK reports of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia. While the estimated incident rate has increased over time as awareness of the condition increases across the healthcare system, the number of cases remains extremely low, given that more than 49 million doses of AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine have been administered.
A number of colleagues asked about myocarditis. There is no evidence that people are at an increased risk of cardiac arrest in the days and weeks following the vaccine. The risk of getting myocarditis or pericarditis after the vaccine remains very low. A large study of 4 million vaccinated people in Denmark, published in the British Medical Journal, found that there were no deaths or diagnoses of heart failure in people who were diagnosed with myocarditis or pericarditis after being vaccinated.
In the highest-risk group, those aged 18 to 29, until the end of September this year there were 29 cases for every million second Pfizer doses and 68 cases for every million second Moderna doses given in the UK. The risk is much lower after a booster dose, and in other age groups the risk is lower still. However, it is worth remembering that catching covid-19 can significantly increase the risk of cardiac arrest and death, and the risk of developing myocarditis. There are an estimated 1,500 cases of myocarditis per million patients with covid—far greater than the risk of myocarditis following vaccination.
Let me turn now to some of the questions that have been asked. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about the inquiry and how people would be able to contribute to it. It will listen to and consider carefully the experiences of bereaved families and others who have suffered loss as a result of the pandemic. It will not consider individual cases; instead, listening to such accounts will inform its understanding of the impact of the pandemic and the response, and any lessons to be learned. Individuals will be able to engage through the inquiry’s listening exercise and the details of that will be brought forward in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) asked about informed consent. Indeed, I think that he produced the leaflet that provides the information that allows people to understand that the JCVI has recommended the vaccine because on balance it is beneficial to people; it is more likely to be of benefit to them than harm. Equally, however, each individual will be provided with information about the vaccine, as they are with all medical treatments, so that they know the benefits they can expect and the risk of side effects, however small, as well as what they are. As I say, he produced an example in the debate of a leaflet containing such information. What is important is that people are aware of the benefits and risks and can make informed decisions. Vaccination is not compulsory, but we are aware that it is of great benefit to the population and to individuals at risk of covid.
What happens if somebody suffers a 50% disability as a result of having the vaccine, through an adverse reaction, or an unusual event? What do the Government do to help that person? They do not provide any compensation, or any special help through the health service, or a clinic, so what do they do?
My hon. Friend is talking about the vaccine damage payment scheme, which has been running since 1979 and provides a payment of up to £120,000—a tax-free lump sum, a one-off payment—for people who have been severely damaged by vaccines, on the balance of probabilities, which is determined when people apply. That does not prejudice any claim that they may have in a legal sense and they can still pursue a civil claim should they wish to do so. It has been asked whether there should be a separate scheme for covid, but of course it is right that all vaccines are treated in a similar fashion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) asked a few questions. He asked about the terms of reference of the inquiry being a matter for the chair, which indeed they are. He also asked whether I would commit the chair of the MHRA to meet specific people, but that is not for me to decide; it is up to the chair. My hon. Friend’s other question was about children’s vaccines. He is aware of my thoughts on that: it is important when we vaccinate children that the vaccines are of benefit to the child themselves. I am aware that when the vaccine was approved that was the decision made by all four chief medical officers and it is very important that the Government listen to and take medical advice. Since then, some things have changed. Natural immunity is more widespread and school disruption is no longer an issue. I understand that very shortly, at its next meeting, the JCVI will consider whether children’s vaccines should continue to be recommended, on the basis of the current situation. I think it is right that medical research is reviewed regularly as it becomes available and is taken into account.
The position of the MHRA remains that for most people the benefits of the covid-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risks. The surveillance strategy is working, as we have discussed. We are able to respond quickly to ensure safe administration of all covid vaccines. I reiterate that the public should be very confident that all tests are completed to the very highest standards and that vaccines are safe.
Despite the progress we have made, we must not become complacent.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware of events today and I will at least have to see whether I remain in post before I potentially commit somebody else to such an event.
As I was saying, despite the progress we have made, we must not become complacent. We cannot risk an increase in serious illness, hospitalisations and deaths from covid. The UKHSA estimates that vaccinations had averted up to 128,000 deaths and 262,000 hospitalisations by the end of September 2021, and many more since then.
We must do everything in our power to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus and keep pressure off the NHS in a tough winter period. Viruses such as covid-19 spread much more easily in winter when we socialise indoors. To protect those most at risk and help to reduce pressure on the NHS, we are delivering an autumn booster dose to those who are most in need of an extra layer of protection. Even if someone has had all of their jabs so far, and perhaps had covid too, they might still need an autumn booster to strengthen their protection. I encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward for their covid booster and seasonal flu jab today. To encourage vaccination against covid and flu and boost uptake, the NHS is making every effort to make it as convenient as possible for individuals to take up the offer, including offering both covid and flu vaccines at the same time, where possible, to reduce the number of appointments needed. Our NHS staff and volunteers are pulling out all the stops to deliver the next phase of the covid vaccine programme at speed once again, with more than 3,000 sites up and down the country involved.
The NHS was the first healthcare system in the world to deliver a covid-19 vaccine outside clinical trials, and it is now the first to deliver the new, variant-busting vaccine. Bivalent vaccines target two different strains of covid-19. They will give us a broader immunity and therefore potentially improve protection against variants of the virus. Whatever vaccine people receive in the autumn booster programme, they can be assured that it remains effective in preventing severe disease against all current variants and any potential future variants.
As I draw to a close, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for bringing this important debate to the House at such an important time. The Government have already commissioned a public inquiry into the pandemic, and covid vaccines will be reviewed as part of that inquiry. There are no plans for an inquiry solely on vaccine safety. We face a tough winter ahead, and collectively we must do everything we can to protect those who are most vulnerable and to reduce pressure on the NHS. I encourage everyone who is eligible to step forward for their covid and flu vaccines as soon as they are able.
It is unusual to be in this place and be lambasted by colleagues, but I make no apology for looking out for the health and wellbeing of my constituents. I completely agree with the sentiments raised throughout the course of the debate. We have to do more, and I urge the Minister to look into what more we can do for those who are adversely affected. I will not apologise for not allowing that to be a gateway that allows vaccine misinformation to come into the mainstream.
Some people have said that the debate is overdue. I hastened to remind colleagues in my opening remarks that there have been four of these Petitions Committee debates, let alone the Backbench Business debates and private colleagues who have come forward to ask for debates. This is not overdue; it has happened plenty of times. We have given a lot of parliamentary time to this. Yes, there is more that we can and must do for those who suffer harm, but it is worth reiterating that the system for approving and monitoring vaccines is robust, the inquiry exists already and vaccines are a great British success story. It was a Brit who discovered vaccines in the way that we know them today, and they have been effective in tackling a range of illnesses that would previously have been life-threatening or very dangerous indeed. The proof is that they work, they are saving lives and they protect us and others. I join the Minister in urging people to come forward for their vaccines this winter, to help to protect themselves and others and ensure the strain on our NHS is as minimal as possible.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 602171, relating to the safety of covid-19 vaccines.