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Covid-19: Vaccination Programme

Volume 810: debated on Wednesday 24 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress of the COVID-19 vaccination programme towards meeting its (1) delivery targets, and (2) objectives.

My Lords, the vaccine deployment programme is proceeding at pace, for which I give profound thanks on behalf of all noble Lords. We have offered a Covid vaccine to 15 million of the top four priority cohorts, hitting our 15 February delivery target. We remain on track to achieve our objective of offering a vaccine to all priority cohorts by 15 April and all adults by the end of July.

My Lords, the vaccine programme certainly is going well, but there is evidence that some groups are being left behind. One such group is housebound people. Although they cannot leave their homes, carers and family come in, which opens them up to infection. Why does NHS England not record the number of housebound patients who have received the vaccination? What is being done to speed up their vaccination? The other group is people in poor areas and demographics. What is being done to correct this?

My Lords, we were alert to the issue of housebound priority cohorts from the very beginning, which is why we have put in place mobile vaccine units. We work closely with community pharmacists and GPs in order to take the vaccine to housebound individuals. While we do not report on them publicly, I understand from the front line that the progress of that has gone extremely well.

The issue of areas of deprivation is really troubling. It is often those areas where the disease is most prevalent and where the vaccine rollout has been the slowest. We are working extremely hard with local community groups, faith groups, marketing experts and influencers to get the message through to the right people and to take the vaccine delivery into the right contexts.

My Lords, the vaccination programme has been one bright spot in what has otherwise been a less than illustrious handling of the pandemic, but the number of daily doses administered on Monday fell significantly, week on week, for the fifth day running. Can the Minister explain why? Can he further explain the apparent discrepancy between the vaccination rate in London and other regions of the country? It appears that some regions have a rate 50% higher than London. What are the reasons for that and what is being done to narrow the gap?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord’s analysis. We are sometimes constrained by supply, but I am reassured that we will hit the targets that I articulated. London has a younger demographic, which is why the rollout percentages can seem lower than in other areas.

My Lords, will the Minister outline the Government’s strategy to address those areas and people who are reluctant to take up the vaccine? Those of us who have had it know that it is the passport to our freedom.

My Lords, we have an extremely sophisticated and energetic programme in this regard. Let me flag that the most important influencers in anyone’s decision on whether to take the vaccine are the people whom they know and love. The best way to encourage vaccine uptake is to take the vaccine yourself.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his Statement that decisions would be led by data, not dates. In the same Statement, he said that step 2 would be no earlier than 12 April, step 3 no earlier than 17 May and step 4 no earlier than 21 June. This morning, the Daily Telegraph reported that the 21 June date may be brought forward if the data continues to show that coronavirus is being well dealt with. What is leading the Government’s decisions? Is it dates or data?

My Lords, I recommend that my noble friend and the Daily Telegraph look at the large amount of conditional material that the Prime Minister articulated in his Statement. There were no firm dates. He made it clear that data would drive decisions and he made a lot of his indicative programme remarks reliant on passing the four key tests that he laid out very clearly in his programme.

My Lords, at Monday’s Downing Street press conference, Professor Chris Whitty expressed his view that front-line health and care workers had what he termed a “professional responsibility” to get vaccinated to reduce the risk that Covid poses to patients and care home residents. With studies indicating that in many care homes well in excess of 30% of care workers have not yet taken up the vaccine, what plans do the Government have to make getting vaccinated a condition of employment?

My Lords, the Chief Medical Officer was entirely right. As the noble Baroness probably knows, there are already important requirements on health care workers who, for instance, do surgery or are in certain risky clinical situations to have the right vaccines, hepatitis being one in particular. Having up-to-date vaccines is a condition of engagement for some medical staff. The noble Baroness is right to raise the question of social care. We are looking at the right policy in that area. We want to tread carefully and to take social care workers with us. We are aware of the risks in social care, but we do not want to provide barriers for employment. Getting that decision right will be one of the most important things that we do.

My Lords, I would like to follow on from that. My friend has a 99 year-old mother in a care home and she is naturally very glad at the prospect of more frequent and slightly less distanced visits. She has not held her mother’s hand for over a year. She is deeply concerned that some of the care workers in the home, who have to attend to some of her mother’s most intimate needs, have declined vaccination. Should not the rule in care homes be, in the words of a recent Times leader, “no jab, no job”?

My noble friend puts it very bluntly. At this stage of the rollout, when the vaccine has not been made available to everyone, it is too early to make that kind of decision. However, he makes the case well and I hear it loud and clear.

My Lords, I welcome today’s announcement that all people with a learning disability on their GP learning disability register will now be included in group 6. However, we know that these registers are incomplete. How will the Government and the NHS ensure that those in England not currently on the register can be added so that they can be offered a vaccine too? Will the Minister confirm that family carers and home carers will be offered vaccination at the same time?

We have to work with what we have. The existing register, while not perfect, is the tool that we have for our task. GPs had been encouraged to update registers in advance of the vaccine, as we had several months of knowing that it was coming. I understand that considerable work has gone into that. With regard to carers, my understanding is that they are not currently included in the clarification that came out today, but I am happy to confirm that point with her.

My Lords, we all want our children back at school on 8 March, and the Government need to do everything possible to keep children learning, with testing systems that work, ventilation and the use of Nightingale classrooms. The Government missed the opportunity to vaccinate teachers at half-term, so I ask the Minister to explain why, if our children are to be back at school on 8 March. When will teachers and support staff be a priority for vaccination?

My Lords, teachers are a priority in as much as they are on the prioritisation list along with other key workers, but the honest assessment of the JCVI is that teachers are not at accelerated risk of increased sickness or hospitalisation over any other member of the public. We are enormously grateful to the teaching profession for the role it is playing in getting schools back and in testing but, in terms of sickness and mortality, teachers are in the right place in the JCVI prioritisation.

My Lords, NHS England has told GPs to use their clinical discretion on vaccines for adults with a learning disability—although I am pleased that the Minister says that this is no longer the case. What percentage of adults with a learning disability have been called for their first jab and, if it is not 100% at this stage, why not?

I do not have the precise figure to hand. Those in group 4 will include those with Down’s syndrome and other CEVs; those with severe or profound learning disabilities will be in group 6. As we know, group 4 has had an extremely high conversion rate and, although I do not think it is exactly 100%, it will be an astonishingly high amount and, if those figures are available, I should be glad to write to the noble Baroness with them.