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Covid-19: Vaccinations

Volume 808: debated on Thursday 17 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people they anticipate will have received COVID-19 vaccinations by (1) 31 December, (2) 31 January 2021, (3) 28 February 2021, and (4) 31 March 2021.

My Lords, more than 137,000 people in the UK have received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the first week of the largest vaccination programme in British history, and I thank all those involved. It will take at least until spring for all high-risk groups—an estimated 25 million people in England—to be offered a Covid vaccine. We remain committed to the principle of offering everyone in Britain a vaccine.

The Government have form on overpromising and underdelivering, so I am interested in the figure that the noble Lord has given. Assuming that he is going to achieve 25 million vaccinations, that means in excess of 1 million people a week being vaccinated between now and then. With 200 vaccination centres, that means something like 7,500 vaccinations per week and, if centres work 14 hours a day for seven days, that will be something like 75 per day. Does the noble Lord not think that he is in danger —again—of overpromising and—again—of fuelling the widespread belief that the crisis is over, which is leading to the behaviour that we all know is likely to fuel the number of cases in the next few weeks?

My Lords, the mathematics done by the noble Lord are interesting but not quite a reflection of the strategy. It is undoubtedly true that the NHS is, wisely, taking the start of the deployment with great care. This is an extremely complex vaccine to deliver, but hospital hubs, local vaccination services and vaccination centres will be rolled out around the country. The kind of ambition that the noble Lord describes—quite rightly—is exactly what we seek to deliver; we will update the House as that deployment plan rolls out.

My Lords, I want to urge early access to the vaccine for the terminally ill. On Tuesday, in response to my noble friend Lady Thornton, the Minister said that there was a powerful case but any further refinements to the priority list will “create profound operational challenges”. That is not a good enough answer for my nephew, Matthew Walton, who has stage 4 brain cancer. Surely his two young children should be able to spend their remaining time together without the additional threat of an early death, which could so easily be averted by a vaccine—unlike his cancer. Will the Minister please press this powerful case?

The noble Baroness makes the case extremely well; I pay tribute to her personal testimony. I looked into this matter after giving my answer to the question last week. I assure the noble Baroness that those who are terminally ill are, of course, clinically vulnerable by nature. We will ensure that those who are clinically vulnerable will get the vaccine when it is clinically appropriate to do so, which I hope brings her some reassurance.

Those who are not registered with GPs and would like to take the vaccine need to register with GPs. We have put in place provisions to allow easier registration processes, we have updated our data arrangements and we are expecting a large number of people to seek out registration. That will be one of the benefits of the vaccination programme: clearer, better records of those in this country who are part of the NHS family.

My Lords, last month, my noble friend the Minister was hoping to receive advice from the World Anti-Doping Agency for our Olympic and Paralympic sports stars preparing for the 2021 Tokyo Games on the specific point of whether MRNA vaccines were prohibited under the WADA code. I understand that the vaccines have been deemed safe and acceptable for use within the guidelines, protocols and rules of the WADA prohibited list. If this is the case, will my noble friend ask his department: to publish WADA’s detailed advice; what testing capability our national anti-doping agency—UKAD—has for synthetic messenger RNAs; and for information on when all elite sportspeople can expect to be vaccinated so that they can train and compete safely?

I am grateful to my noble friend for his championship of this important point. It is not necessarily the role of the department to rule on this matter, but I note that UK Anti-Doping welcomed the World Anti-Doping Agency’s publication of its view on the vaccine. We welcome that moment and I very much hope that it provides the reassurance that athletes are looking for.

My Lords, my mother-in-law is 84 years old. That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but it is not funny because she has serious health concerns and is very high risk. Over the past couple of weeks, my wife has repeatedly telephoned her NHS GP practice in north-west London—I will not name it, although I am happy to tell the Minister which it is. Staff there say that they have no vaccine, no information about when they can expect to receive the vaccine, no guidance from the Department of Health and no protocols. Does this not support the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that there is a real danger of the Government underperforming yet again in this context?

I hear the concerns of both the noble Lord and his mother very clearly but I assure him that, to date, the rollout has very much focused on the 70 hospital hubs where we are getting the protocols and practices about getting this extremely difficult vaccine into people’s arms correct before we roll out distribution to all GP services. It is not at all my expectation that every GP service in the country will have the vaccine, nor that they will necessarily be ready to deliver it this week, but that guidance has been distributed. If the noble Lord would like to send me the details, I will ensure that that GP practice is up to speed on this important matter.

My Lords, my concern is about NHS staff. They may need to deal with a third wave in the new year, they will be required to work through the Christmas period dealing with the current spike and they will be co-ordinating the vaccine—so they might be completely overstretched in January and February. Would it be a good idea to ensure that at least front-line, high-risk clinical area staff are vaccinated immediately? Does he agree that this would make sense from an operational point of view? I know from my work as a non-executive director of a London hospital that it would be a huge morale booster for the staff to whom we owe so much.

I take on board the noble Baroness’s points on the NHS. Its staff have been under huge pressure, which is likely to be sustained into the new year. I pay tribute to their hard work. The JCVI has looked extremely carefully at the prioritisation. The most important thing is to avoid pressure on ICUs and the threat of mortality. That has been done by prioritising age over role. I also pay tribute to the St John Ambulance service, which has done an amazing amount of work in gathering 40,000 inquiries for training on delivering the vaccine. By undergoing training, those people will relieve NHS staff of an enormous amount of the pressure that the noble Baroness rightly describes.

My Lords, following on from my noble friend Lady Brinton’s question, it is estimated that between hundreds of thousands and millions of people are not registered with a GP. Some have the most chaotic lifestyles, do not speak English and are not plugged into the most basic services. How will the Government make arrangements for people who are outside normal registration processes to be vaccinated?

The noble Lord makes the point well. He is right that there are undoubtedly communities that conventional NHS outreach has not got to; we have learned that fact during Covid. Our immediate priority is to reach the over-80s and ensure that the deployment programme works for those groups that are most at risk. We will be turning our attention to the groups that he describes, but I cannot avoid the fact that, if you are going to get a medical service, you need to be registered with a GP. That is something that some people are going to have to make part of their life.

The registered GP services where I live are banging on the door for this vaccine at the moment. What is the latest date for a universal rollout to every primary care area in the country, making the vaccine available to those who are vulnerable?

I completely understand the noble Lord’s impatience to know that. I am afraid that I cannot provide him with a precise date. One reason why is because we do not know the availability of the other vaccines. As he knows, the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Moderna vaccine and three others are all in the pipeline at the moment. If they get authorisation from the MHRA, that will completely change our deployment programme. At the moment, we are putting in place contingency measures for an uplift in our deployment should any of those be authorised; that will lead to a major growth in our deployment plans.

Sitting suspended.