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Covid-19 Vaccine Update

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 4 February 2021

With permission, I would like to make a statement on coronavirus, but before I do that I wish my shadow opposite number, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), a happy birthday.

Our nation is getting safer every day as more and more people get protected by the biggest immunisation programme in the history of our health service. More than 10 million people have now received their first dose of one of our coronavirus vaccines. That is almost one in five adults in the United Kingdom. We are vaccinating at scale, while at the same time retaining a close focus on the most vulnerable in our society to make sure those at greater need are at the front of the queue.

I am pleased to inform the House that in the UK we have now vaccinated almost nine in 10 over-80s, almost nine in 10 over-75s and more than half of people in their 70s. We have also visited every eligible care home possible with older residents in England and offered vaccinations to all their residents and staff. That means we are currently on track to meet our target of offering a vaccine to the four most vulnerable groups by mid-February.

That is an incredible effort that has drawn on the hard work of so many, and I want to just take a moment to thank every single person who has made this happen: the hundreds of thousands of volunteers up and down the country, the scientists, our colleagues in the NHS—the GPs, the doctors, the nurses and the vaccinators—those in social care, the manufacturers, the local authorities, the armed forces, the civil servants who work night and day to make this deployment possible, and anyone else who has played a part in this hugely logistical endeavour. It really is a combination of the best of the United Kingdom. At our time of national need, you have given us a big boost in our fight against this deadly virus, which remains a big threat to us all.

There are still more than 32,000 covid patients in hospital, and the level of infection is still alarmingly high, so we must all stay vigilant and keep our resolve while we keep expanding our vaccination programme, so that we can get more people protected even more quickly. We have an ambitious plan to do that. We are boosting our supply of vaccines and our portfolio now stands at more than 400 million doses, some of which will be manufactured in the United Kingdom, and we are opening more vaccination sites, too. I am pleased to inform the House that 39 new sites have opened their doors this week, along with 62 more pharmacy-led sites. That includes a church in Worcester, Selhurst Park—the home of Crystal Palace football club—and a fire station in Basingstoke, supported by firefighters and support staff from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

One of the greatest pleasures for me over the past few months has been seeing the wide range of vaccination sites that have been set up right in the heart of our local communities. Cinemas, mosques, food courts and so many other institutions have now been transformed into life-saving facilities, giving hope to people every day. Thanks to that rapid expansion, we have now established major national infrastructure. There are now 89 large vaccination centres and 194 sites run by high street pharmacies, along with 1,000 GP-led services and more than 250 hospital hubs. Today’s announcement will mean that even more people will live close to a major vaccination site, so we can make vaccinating the most vulnerable even quicker and even simpler.

We have always believed in the power of science and ingenuity to get us through this crisis, and I was pleased earlier this week to see compelling findings in The Lancet medical journal, reinforcing the effectiveness of our Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It showed that the vaccine provides sustained protection of 76% during the 12-week interval between the first and second dose, and that the vaccine seems likely to reduce transmission to others by two thirds. That is really great news for us all, but we will not rest on our laurels.

No one is really safe until the whole world is safe. Our scientific pioneers will keep innovating, so that we can help the whole world in our collective fight against this virus. I saw how wonderful and powerful this ingenuity could be when I was one of thousands of volunteers who took part in the Novavax clinical trial, which published very promising results a few days ago. Today, I am pleased to announce another clinical trial—a world-first study that will help to cement the UK’s position as a global hub for vaccination research. This trial will look at whether different vaccines can be safely used for a two-dose regime in the future to support a more flexible programme of immunisation. I want to reinforce that this is a year-long study, and there are no current plans to change our existing vaccination programme, which will continue to use the same doses. But it will perform a vital role, helping the world to understand whether different vaccines can be safely used. Our scientists have played a pivotal part in our response to this deadly virus, and once again they are leading the way, helping us to learn more about this virus and how we should respond.

It has been heart-warming to see how excited so many people have been to get their vaccine and to see the work taking place in local communities to encourage people to come forward to get their jab. Hon. Members have an important role to play too. I was heartened to see colleagues from both sides of the House coming together to encourage take-up within minority ethnic communities through two joint videos posted on social media last week. As the video rightly says, “MPs don’t agree all the time, but on taking the vaccination, we do.” I could not agree more, and I am grateful to every single Member who has come forward to support this national effort. We want to make it as easy as possible for colleagues to do so. This week, we published a new resource for Members that provides more information on the vaccine roll-out and what colleagues can do to increase the take-up of the vaccine in their constituencies. That is an extremely valuable resource, and I urge all Members to take a look at it and think about what they can do in their constituencies.

Our vaccination programme is our way out of this pandemic. Even though the programme is accelerating rapidly and, as the chief medical officer said yesterday, we appear to be past the peak, this remains a deadly virus, and it will take time for the impact of vaccinations to be felt. So for now, we must all stand firm and keep following the steps that we know make a big difference until the science can make us safe. I commend this statement to the House.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his kind words about my birthday. Of course, the gladdest tidings is the news that more than 10 million people have received their first dose. Once again, our incredible national health service has delivered for us. I visited a site in Nottingham earlier in the week, and that team of the NHS, armed forces, local councils, volunteers and many more coming together was an uplifting and incredible sight.

We welcome today’s announcement about the new clinical trial. It is clear that we will live with covid-19 and its mutations for a long time, so this is the best way to get out in front of it. We were glad also to hear the study results regarding the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reducing transmission and maintaining protection over 12 weeks. As the Minister said, it is clear that vaccines are the way out of this pandemic. Daily cases are beginning to fall, but it is vital that the Government do not repeat previous mistakes and take their foot off the gas just as things look to be getting better. Could the Minister update us on whether he expects similar trial data to be published for the Pfizer vaccine?

The Government seem to be on track to deliver on their promise of vaccinating the top four Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation priority groups by the middle of this month. We really welcome that, and I commend the Minister’s work in that regard, but in a spirit of co-operation, I need to press him on a couple of points about what comes next.

First, regarding data, we are all concerned about the reports of lagging take-up among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, as well as poorer communities, and I associate myself with the comments about the brilliant work done by our colleagues to fight that. We know that these groups have been worst affected by the pandemic, and we need them to take up the vaccine, but I am conscious that much of what we hear is based on anecdotal stories, rather than hard data at a community level, split by ethnicity. Can the Minister say what data he has on that and when colleagues can get council ward-level data, so that we can all be part of the effort to drive up take-up? As the first phase is coming to an end, can the Minister update us on the number of care home staff who have received their first dose and perhaps what the plan is to encourage those who have not done so to take it up on reflection?

When we get to the beginning of April, those who have had their first dose will be expecting and needing their second one. Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be enough supply to ensure that everyone who is due their second dose gets it, as well as, obviously, to manage those who are due their first? The Foreign Secretary would not offer that commitment on behalf of the Government recently. I hope the Vaccine Minister will be able to.

Colleagues have raised with me the fact that constituents who have received a national letter and called 119 to book are not routinely being offered local primary care network-based options. Can the Minister confirm that that should not be the case and that he would welcome hearing examples of where that is happening so that we can change it?

The Opposition fully supported the Government in prioritising those at greatest risk of dying—those in the first four categories—but as we move to categories 5 to 9, it is reasonable to ask the JCVI about including key workers. Data has shown that those who work closely with others and are regularly exposed to covid-19 have higher death rates than the rest of the population. By prioritising those workers alongside the over-50s and 60s, and people with underlying health conditions, we can reduce transmission further, protect more people and keep the vital services that they provide running smoothly, which includes reopening schools. Putting the politics of this to one side, we raised this suggestion over a week ago now. Will the Minister say whether he has had those conversations with the JCVI, or whether he will at least commit to asking it to look at how that suggestion might work?

It is HIV Testing Week. Those living with HIV are in category 6. If their doctor knows their HIV status, they will have their opportunity as planned. However, some choose, perfectly legitimately and for some profoundly important reasons, to access their healthcare through other means, such as an HIV clinic. Their doctor might therefore not know their status and they may well be missed. In this specific case, will the Minister commit to looking at a possible workaround? Allowing HIV clinics to connect those individuals directly would be one way, but we would support any effective way of doing that.

Finally, given that it is World Cancer Day, what consideration has the Minister given to vaccinating household members of the clinically extremely vulnerable, to give another layer of protection to blood cancer patients and other CEV people, an argument strongly supported by the reports that transmission is reduced by these vaccinations?

To conclude, this programme really is the light at the end of the tunnel. Our NHS has delivered, and we must support it to continue to do so by making the right policy decisions.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his constructive way of engaging with the vaccination deployment programme. On trials, we have two running currently, both with Public Health England. The Vivaldi trial is testing residents of care homes, who were in category 1 of the JCVI categories. The second is Siren, which is testing frontline health workers, who are in category 2. As Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, has said, we will know the infection and transmission data from those trials in the next few weeks. Of course, the Oxford data is very promising—it needs to be peer reviewed—but those trials will also capture the Oxford vaccine, because obviously that came on site in January.

On the priority list, the JCVI looked very closely at both black, Asian and minority ethnic and, of course, other considerations, including by profession, and came down clearly on the side of age as the deciding factor in people’s risk of dying from covid. This is a race against death, hence the nine categories, which we are going through, and we will continue to do so. A number of professions will be captured in those categories. Of course, those with extremely severe illness will be captured in the category for the severely extremely vulnerable, and others will be captured in further categories down the phase 1 list.

I certainly think it would be wrong to change the JCVI recommendation, because categories 1 to 9 account for 99% of mortality. When we get into phase 2, we would welcome a debate and, of course, will ask the JCVI about including professions such as teachers, shop workers and police officers, who through their work come into contact with much greater volumes of the virus than others do, and it will advise us accordingly.

On BAME and ethnicity, the NHS now collects such data, and we are publishing it. We are doing an enormous amount of work not only across Government, but with the NHS, to ensure that we bring in local government so that we can begin to share data. I would welcome us working much closer with local government and the NHS so that we can identify, to the individual level, the people we need to protect as soon as possible.

I put it on the record that I want clinical commissioning groups to share data with MPs. Several colleagues—[Interruption.] Including you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I can see you nodding away vigorously. CCGs should and must engage with local politicians, because MPs get a lot of emails and telephone calls from concerned constituents in the top four most vulnerable categories. Of course, the NHS has plans to publish CCG-level data very soon.

As for care home staff, we had a fantastic response through the care home vaccination programme, which is category 1, and we continue to do more with staff to encourage them to be vaccinated, because we make four visits into care homes. Visit one is for the first dose, visit two is to try to vaccinate those who may have been infected the first time, because people cannot be vaccinated until after 28 days, visit three will be for second doses, and so on. We are getting greater traction with care home staff, but the hon. Gentleman is right to mention that. There is a big focus on helping them to go to hospital hubs and, of course, their primary care networks.

On the second dose, everyone who has had a first dose of Pfizer will get a second dose of Pfizer within that 12-week dosing period. That will begin in March in the usual way that the NHS does vaccinations. Everyone who has had a first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca will get a second dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca within 12 weeks as well.

The hg is right to ask about people wanting the option of going either to a national vaccination centre or to the PCN. If right hon. and hon. Members have particular cases, please point them to us and we will do everything we can to ensure that that is facilitated.

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted HIV clinics. I will take that matter away and see whether there is a workaround for those who want to have that information remain private from their GP. We will see what we can do.

This is World Cancer Day, and there is now real excitement in the scientific community in the UK about the messenger RNA vaccine, because people can begin to think about vaccines for cancers as well. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point about those who care for the clinically extremely vulnerable, and we want to ensure that we deliver the JCVI phase 1 and then very quickly reach the rest of the population.

I congratulate the Minister on his leadership of the vaccine roll-out programme, which really is one of the most impressive anywhere in the world. Indeed, I also commend the Health Secretary for the foundations that he laid last year.

Now that we know that mutations and variants are the name of the game, I want to ask the Minister about a worst-case scenario: a variant that is wholly immune to the vaccines that we are currently distributing. How possible is it that we could see that in the next few months in the UK? Has the Manaus variant, which people are particularly worried about, arrived here from Brazil? If we did see such a variant, what is the timescale not just to develop a new vaccine that works against it, but to manufacture it and get it approved by regulators so that it is ready to go?

I am grateful to the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee for his question, and he is absolutely right. The manufacturers are already working on variants to their vaccine to take into account the mutation of the virus. Viruses will mutate to survive and this virus is no different. There are about 4,000 mutations now around the world, some more concerning than others. We have, in the United Kingdom, a genome sequencing industry that is a world leader—about 50%, or just under, of the sequencing has taken place in the United Kingdom. Not only are we working with the current manufacturers—Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna —that have been approved, but we are also looking at how we can make sure that we make the most of the new messenger RNA technology, which allows the rapid development of vaccine variants that will then deal with the virus variants as rapidly as possible. When I spoke to the Science and Technology Committee a few weeks ago, I said that we were planning to have in place the ability to go from the moment that we can sequence a variant that we are really concerned about to the moment that we can have a vaccine ready in between 30 to 40 days, with then, of course, the manufacturing time.

We have invested in Oxfordshire, in the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, and in the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Braintree—£127 million there and just shy of £100 million in Oxfordshire—to be ready to manufacture any vaccine that we would need. The Prime Minister, of course, also visited those making what I refer to as our seventh vaccine, the Valneva vaccine. That is a whole inactivated virus, so it does not just work on the spikes in the way that the two current vaccines that we are deploying work. It works on the whole of the virus, which is much more likely to capture any mutations from the spikes and therefore be incredibly effective. We have invested in that production facility in Scotland so that we can have that vaccine as a future-proofing of annual vaccination strategies or a booster in the autumn, if necessary.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. I am glad to hear his recognition of the importance of adherence to the clinical categories of the JCVI, and I also give my thanks to vaccination teams in my Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency, across Scotland and, indeed, these islands.

I urge the Minister, however, to think more lightly of himself and deeply of the world. Over recent weeks, the UK Government and their allies in Scotland have quite disgracefully been attempting to sow fear in the minds of our vulnerable communities that vaccine deployment is too slow. That narrative was completely debunked yesterday, yet the Prime Minister still claimed that we have today passed the milestone of 10 million vaccines in the United Kingdom, including almost 90% of those aged 75 and over in England, and every eligible person in a care home. Today, however, on “Good Morning Scotland”, the Minister was further pressed on how many vaccines had been given—not offered, but given to people in care homes in England. Even with 24 hours’ warning and following a detailed probing, he was not able to offer more than a vague 91% of those eligible in an ill-defined subset, before settling on “a very high number”, and suggesting that care home staff’s vaccination may not yet have begun in England. Can he tell us today what percentage of all care home residents and all care home staff have had their jab in England and, if not, why not?

To return to the JCVI clinical prioritisation, in a recent written parliamentary question to the Minister regarding the clinically extremely vulnerable, he chose to regurgitate JCVI guidance rather than answering the question. With the encouraging news that the Oxford vaccine and potentially others have a measurable impact on transmission, can he update the House on what steps he has taken to ask the JCVI to review current guidance for household members of the clinically extremely vulnerable, such as people with blood cancer or organ transplantation, and thus provide a vital layer of protection to those who may not be able to receive the vaccine themselves?

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question, albeit, dare I say, I do not recognise his description of our collaboration. We have, over the past two weeks, been working solidly. The British Army—the armed forces—have been working to deliver 80 vaccination sites in Scotland and to hand them over to NHS Scotland within 28 days, and that work began a couple of weeks ago. So I hope he recognises the effort the United Kingdom is putting in not just in supplying the vaccines for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, but in the way we are trying to support the vaccine deployment in Scotland.

Of course, last weekend was our target to make sure that every eligible care home in England was visited, and over 10,000 care homes have actually been visited and received the vaccine. Only a handful of care homes, which were deemed to have an outbreak, were not visited. The NHS, quite rightly, celebrated achieving that target last weekend, so I am slightly saddened, in a way, that there is this politicking between ourselves about this issue.

We continue—as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), asked me—to work very hard to make sure that staff in care homes are also offered the vaccine on those visits, and they also have an opportunity to be vaccinated in their primary care networks and, of course, in hospitals.

On the JCVI, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are in category 4, and we will vaccinate them by mid-February.

Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking local health teams and volunteers for the incredible vaccination efforts we have seen in North Lincolnshire? I know they are keen to deliver even more. Can he give an update on the progress he is making on increasing weekly vaccine supplies?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. I certainly join her in thanking the teams that have been working and delivering in North Lincolnshire. These are extraordinary people doing really incredible work, and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

We try as hard as we can in the team to make sure we give as much notice as possible to local teams about when they are getting their delivery. This week, yesterday—Wednesday—everyone would have had notice of their deliveries for next week. We want to give as much notice as possible. Our limiting factor remains vaccine supply. It is becoming more stable, and we have greater visibility of vaccines all the way through to March, hence our confidence about meeting our targets. I can reassure my hon. Friend that her local teams will get the vaccines they need to meet the mid-February target of vaccinating the top four cohorts and protecting them before that date.

It was an immense privilege this morning to visit the Stoop in Twickenham, home to Harlequins rugby, which opens today as a local mass vaccination hub. The NHS, Quins and the council have done an incredible job to be in a position to start vaccinating 500 people a day.

The Minister has spoken quite a lot about care home staff and some of the challenges in driving uptake among those staff, but we know that domiciliary care staff are also lagging behind in the vaccination rates. One industry survey has suggested that only 32% have been vaccinated so far. Could I press the Minister again: what are the latest vaccination rates for both care home staff and home care staff, what are the reasons for this lag and how can we best work together to address this problem?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. It is great to hear about the Harlequins joining the fight, as they always do, when it comes to the United Kingdom actually getting people protected and vaccinated.

Care home and domiciliary staff are both on our priority list, as the hon. Lady knows. We are working with local government, and David Pearson, who is of course a champion of the social care sector, has been working with local government to identify them. The best way to identify domiciliary staff is through local government, because a lot of people will be with agencies and, as the hon. Lady quite rightly pointed out, are hard to reach. They are in our target: they are part of the top four categories, with those who are caring for the elderly in residential care homes, and we will meet our target of offering them a vaccine by mid-February.

British-based pharmaceutical companies have been pivotal in the global fight against this pandemic. Plants in Teesside, Livingston and Oxford, and Wockhardt in my constituency, are central to vaccine manufacture. So what conversations has my hon. Friend had with his Home Office counterparts to provide sufficient security to these vital pieces of national vaccine infrastructure?

I want to reassure my hon. Friend that, through the vaccines taskforce, we have been liaising extensively with the vaccines’ developers and the related organisations to ensure that the highest level of security exists through the whole vaccine deployment chain. That has, of course, included working directly with the manufacturers, and we have a senior responsible officer seconded to the team to make sure that security is at the forefront of everything we do to deliver this programme. We cannot allow a lapse of security to get in the way of the largest vaccination programme in the history of this country.

I thank the Minister for his concerted strategy and for the overall roll-out of covid vaccines. We are deeply indebted to him for the focus he has given. Does he intend there to be a route by which those who are younger and still attending front-facing work are able to access their vaccine? Furthermore, what co-ordination has there been with GPs’ surgeries to assist them in categorising need when assessing those who are vulnerable but who did not have shielding CEV letters?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. It is a priority for us and we will be saying more on it very soon, because the groups who have not received the letters but are shielding remain incredibly important. He is absolutely right to raise the issue, which is a priority for us.

Getting to 10 million vaccines is a major milestone and a serious achievement, and I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that, thanks to the dedication of many local people, the roll-out in Eastbourne has got off to a very strong start. However, as access and options have increased with new sites coming on stream, there has been some initial public confusion over the different routes and communications. The concern is that the “did not attend” rate, which has to date been insignificant, could now increase. Will my hon. Friend, who is doing such sterling work, assure me that as we march forward the structure of this brave new vaccine campaign is being reviewed and that we can have confidence?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. I am delighted to see that in her constituency the vaccination programme has rolled out so efficiently and well. She is right to point out the issue of choice; we deliberately wanted people to have the choice to be able to go to a vaccination centre or to go through their primary care networks or hospital hub. I will make sure that each and every person in those four categories is offered a vaccine. We have a strategy, which we are now implementing because we are so close to that deadline, of reaching out to the granular level—to GPs—to go through exactly the population in each of those four categories, in order to make sure we know that everybody has been reached and offered that vaccine. I just give her that reassurance.

Pharmacies cannot contribute in the vaccine programme unless they commit to deliver at least 1,000 vaccines a week. That precludes many community pharmacies embedded within those communities where some residents cannot access the vaccination centres. So will the Minister allow local pharmacies to work together to deliver smaller volumes, so that they can reach more residents who would not otherwise get a vaccine?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. Community and independent pharmacies have a significant role to play; she may have heard me refer earlier to the hundreds that are already in the programme, delivering vaccines. The reason for the 1,000 vaccinations a week minimum is that, when vaccine supply is finite and every dose matters, we cannot afford for vaccines to just sit in a fridge in a smaller pharmacy. As vaccine supply begins to improve, we can look at bringing in more pharmacies. At the moment, 98% of the country is within 10 miles of a vaccination site; for the 2%, we will go to them with a pop-up site. I want us to get to a stage, once we have done phase 1, where we are maybe able to be more convenient and where people can pop into their local pharmacy once supply allows.

The data concerning the Pfizer vaccination recommended that the second jab be given within three weeks. As the Minister has said today, the interval is currently 12 weeks. I am hearing of concerns from the medical world about this gap, which it is claimed risks reducing the vaccine’s efficacy. Could he update the House on this matter?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Pfizer itself says that it is up to the national regulatory authority to advise on the dosing interval. Not only the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—which is our regulator—but the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the four chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all agreed that the up to 12-week interval for Pfizer-BioNTech is exactly the right thing to do to make sure we protect as many people as possible. They cited Pfizer’s own data that, after 15 days, up to 21 days, protection is up to 89% with the first dose.

One of my main primary care centres only has enough vaccine supply to open for half the week. Whether this is because vaccines are being directed to other types of centre—like the major centres that we do not yet have—or are bypassing London, or because there are simply not enough vaccines full stop, targets are being missed. Only 70% of over-80s and 55% of all priority groups had been vaccinated by this week. Can the Minister look at supply to Hammersmith and Fulham, and to London generally?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question, and I will certainly look at that specific example, if he is able to give me the details. The data that will be published at 2 pm for his sustainability and transformation partnership will show that vaccination levels for the over-80s are now over 75%, which is an improvement, but they need to go even further, so I will happily take a look at that. Of course, the recent large vaccination site opened at Network House, Wembley will also help with that.

Frontline nurses, doctors and care staff in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale have done an amazing job during this pandemic, working long hours under immense pressure, and it is only right that they have been included in the first phase of the vaccinations. Could my hon. Friend confirm the percentage take-up rate of vaccinations for NHS and care home staff?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The fantastic NHS staff have stepped up in the most challenging of circumstances, and it is imperative that they are part of this first phase of the vaccination programme.

A significant milestone was achieved last week, as my hon. Friend will have heard me say earlier: we have now gone into every eligible care home of older adults to offer their staff and residents their first dose of the vaccine. This is testament to our remarkable care home staff and NHS workers. I urge all social care and front- line health care workers to take up the vaccine when it is offered to them. The recent large vaccination centre for my hon. Friend’s constituency is the Spectrum Community Health CIC in Wakefield, which staff can also access. We continue to make progress with staff, and our aim is to offer to each and every member of staff that vaccination by the middle of February.

The news that a mutated form of the new, more infectious Kent variant has been found in Bristol has worried a lot of people. I appreciate what the Minister said earlier about developing new vaccine variants as we go along, but where does that leave people who have already been vaccinated or who will be vaccinated before the new vaccines come on stream? What reassurance can the Minister offer?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. The vaccines that we are currently deploying will work on the variants that are in the United Kingdom. Both the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, and the chief scientific adviser have said that they would be very surprised if the current vaccines have no impact on the variants of the virus, so we continue to vaccinate at speed, at the same time, of course, as being vigilant by sequencing the new variants. Of course, we are able to react, with the manufacturers, to any future need in respect of the vaccination programme. At the moment, the vaccines are exactly the right thing to do, including because of the protection against severe infection and hospitalisation that they offer, which remains incredibly high with both vaccines.

Further to my question to the Prime Minister last week in which I called for a mass vaccination centre in Medway—also called for by fellow Medway Members of Parliament—I welcome the proposals by Kent and Medway CCG to increase capacity at Medway Maritime Hospital, which now needs to be added to the national booking programme. However, the Minister knows from conversations with Members of Parliament from Medway that we urgently need a mass vaccination centre in Medway. We have a population of 280,000 and are one of the areas hardest hit by covid in the country. I need the Minister to ensure, now, urgently and swiftly, that we get a mass vaccination centre in Medway, in line with our needs. Linked to that, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the fantastic NHS staff throughout Medway and at Medway Maritime Hospital, and to the great work that the CCG is doing in Kent?

My hon. Friend and I have had conversations about this matter because he is a great champion of his constituents. He will be aware that there has been a huge amount of work to step up vaccination services in Medway in recent weeks. Each primary care network site receives its own supply, and work has been carried out with the local CCG to ensure that the vaccine supply aligns with the number of registered patients in the priority cohort groups—groups 1 to 4. When some sites progress through their supply more quickly than others, we work with them to ensure that supplies are replenished as quickly as possible so that they can continue to vaccinate the most vulnerable. We are keeping a close watch on my hon. Friend’s area because, as he quite rightly points out, it has gone through some difficulties. I reassure him that the latest numbers I have for the Kent and Medway STP show that 86.3% of over-80s have had the first dose.

The Leader of the House and the Minister talk of the beneficence of this Government. Yesterday, soon-to-be Baroness Davidson asked Scotland’s First Minister whether she would accept armed forces help with vaccine deployment, in spite of huge increases in the roll-out in Scotland. As Scotland contributes to the UK armed forces—as do all parts of the UK—is it not time to stop using this dreadful pandemic to portray the deployment of our armed services in such a cynical and divisive way?

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question, although I am slightly surprised because it is the United Kingdom’s armed forces and the United Kingdom’s vaccine that are being deployed, and I hope we can celebrate that. [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) nodding across the Dispatch Box—and I think he is smiling underneath that mask as well.

I join others in congratulating the Minister on the incredible, world-leading roll-out of the vaccine—I would have expected nothing less from my brilliant friend and colleague. May I reinforce the plea from my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) for a Medway vaccination centre, for all the reasons he gave? Perhaps it would be helpful if we could meet the Minister to discuss that in more detail. My PCNs are doing a phenomenal job in racing through the top four priority groups, but at present they do not have access to IT systems, such as Outcomes4Health and Foundry, that would enable them to analyse and plan properly. My understanding is that access was promised but might not have happened universally, so could the Minister reassure the House that this is being rectified urgently to support the next and larger phase of vaccine roll-out?

I add my thanks to those of my hon. Friend for the relentless determination of her excellent local PCNs to vaccinate the most vulnerable. I would be very happy to meet colleagues to go through in detail the plan up to mid-February, which is our target, and beyond. I am also happy to take away her PCNs’ specific concern about data sharing. Our mantra in the team is to make as much data available as quickly as possible, when we know that it is robust and actionable, so we will look at her point about Foundry and Outcomes4Health to ensure that we can share that. I want to get to a stage where every PCN can track its order, in the way we track an order from Amazon. We have reached basecamp, but we have a big climb ahead of us to vaccinate the whole nation.

May I start by thanking all the staff in our primary care networks and in our NHS for the magnificent work they have done to ensure that as many people in the priority groups in the north-east are vaccinated? In any call and recall system for vaccines, some people will inevitably be missed, so when will directors of public health get the data they need, in sufficient detail, to be able to address those inequalities and contact those who have not responded?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that incredibly important question. Her region has done phenomenally well. I want to praise it because it has 91.8% of first doses for the over-80s in the STP. The NHS is already sharing data with local government. We need to make it more granular. We have brought into the deployment campaign Eleanor Kelly, the former chief executive of Southwark Council, so we are totally in line and integrated with local government, because they know exactly where those hard-to-reach groups are. The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point and that is a big focus for me.

The Government have done brilliantly well in securing more than 350 million jabs, which is enough, all being well, to vaccinate the at-risk population several times over. Given the UK’s relatively enlightened and co-operative approach to vaccine roll-out internationally—in sharp contrast to the narrow and vindictive nationalism of certain quarters of the European Union, which really ought to know better—what trigger points and timetable does my hon. Friend envisage for the disbursement of our inventory of surplus jabs, and the infrastructure necessary to deliver them to countries that are less advantaged than our own?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his excellent question. My absolutely priority is to ensure that we have the inventory—as he quite rightly describes it—to allow us to offer the vaccine to all adults in the United Kingdom, and at the moment we are nowhere near that. Supply remains the limiting factor in our first target, which is to vaccinate groups 1 to 4 by mid-February, and then groups 5 to 9 as soon as we can after that, with phase 2, which we have been discussing today, after that. He is absolutely right that we have now ordered or optioned 407 million doses of vaccine. Once we are in a position to secure enough vaccine for the United Kingdom’s population, we will be able to look at where else we can help with our vaccine supply. We have also put £1.3 billion into a combination of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and COVAX. Of that £1.3 billion, approximately £480 million is going to COVAX, which is helping low and middle-income countries with their vaccination programmes as we speak.

I was grateful for the Minister’s support for the video that I and colleagues across the House with south Asian heritage produced to encourage take-up of the vaccine throughout the UK’s south Asian communities. He knows that there is real concern about the impact of the disinformation being spread online and offline in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Worryingly, much of the disinformation appears to play on people’s faith or race. What work is he and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport colleagues undertaking to tackle the spread of vaccine disinformation online?

I am grateful and incredibly encouraged by the hon. Gentleman’s brilliant initiative, taken with many colleagues across the House, to deliver that brilliant video of south Asian MPs from different political backgrounds and traditions all recommending that, when people’s turn comes, they should take the vaccine.

We have been working across Government. In the Cabinet Office, the covid disinformation unit was set up in March. It works online with the digital platforms to ensure that we identify disinformation and misinformation to them. They should be taking that down immediately. My message to all of them, whether Twitter, Facebook or any of them is this: “You must, must be responsible and play your part in taking this disinformation down as soon as we flag it up to you.”

I am sure my hon. Friend would like to join me in paying huge tribute to the NHS colleagues and volunteers who have rolled out the vaccine with such speed in Gloucestershire. However, is he able to tell the House whether there will be any clarity about when the nine priority categories are likely to be completed? Will that inform the Government on how they can produce a road map for a roll-out of the wider economy, as my businesses in the Cotswolds are desperate for clarity on that matter?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I will certainly join him in thanking the NHS family and army of volunteers. They have done phenomenally well. I can tell him that in his STP in Gloucestershire, 94% of the over-80s have received their first dose—that is pretty good going. He will know that we have built a deployment infrastructure than can deploy as much vaccine supply as we are able to bring in. A couple of Saturdays ago, we reached a record of just shy of 600,000 doses in a single day. That is, I guess, a demonstration of the capability of the infrastructure. We continue to grow it, as I announced today. It is very much dependent on vaccine supply. We have good visibility from here to the end of March, with more volume coming through beyond that. My focus should—I hope he agrees—be on the mid-February deadline to vaccinate those top four cohorts of the most vulnerable. That is 88% of mortality and, if we can get them done by mid-February, we will have achieved a real milestone in our fight against this virus.

The vaccination centre in Chesterfield, the largest town in Derbyshire, is open for only two days this week and for a maximum of two days next week, because NHS England apparently imposed much smaller vaccination numbers on the primary care network hubs than the national centres get. The Derbyshire primary care network states that it could achieve the Minister’s targets if it had the same access to vaccines and the national booking system as the national hubs service. Will he explain why the national centres are prioritised over the local primary care network hubs in towns such as Chesterfield?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The primary care networks have done a fantastic job in delivering the vaccine roll-out and will continue do so as we go beyond the first four cohorts into cohorts 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 and then the next phase. Of course we want to make sure that people have choice. He will know by 2 pm, I think—when the next set of data is published—that his STP has reached 89% of the over-80s, which is an incredible achievement, the bulk of which has been done by the primary care networks. We will continue to support those networks. Through him, I send my thanks and appreciation to them and say that we will redouble our efforts to make sure that they get the vaccine doses that they need to get through not just the first four cohorts, but beyond that to the deployment programme for groups 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

I am very pleased that the Government have agreed that, once the vaccines have become effective for the first four cohorts from 8 March, we can start unlocking the economy. Does the Minister agree that, once the first nine groups have been vaccinated, accounting for 99% of deaths and about 80% of hospitalisations, that would be the right time for all restrictions to be relaxed so that we can get back to living as normal, with our children back at school and the economy fully open?

There is no one who wants to see the economy open and functioning as soon as possible more than my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) rightly points out, the deadline for the top four cohorts is the middle of February. If we go forward three weeks from there, that is when the protection of the two vaccines really kicks in. The plan is to reopen schools on 8 March, after which we will gradually reopen the economy. It is important also to wait for the evidence. As I said earlier, the Vivaldi study and the SIREN study will enable us to see the impact of the vaccines on infection rates and on transmission. We are getting some really positive data from Israel and, of course, from the Oxford team. That will be our own robust evidence and, as the Prime Minister said, we will then share with the House on 22 February the roadmap of how we intend very gradually to reopen the economy.

The UK Government have pre-purchased 300 million doses for a population of 66 million. Guinea, a low-income country, has received only 55 doses for its entire population. Given that COVAX will cover only about 20% of the population in low and middle-income countries, can the Minister explain how the UK will step up and take part as global Britain, ensuring that those people in low and middle-income countries and developing countries are able to access the vaccine?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. We will do so in a couple of ways. First, once we have enough vaccine supply to be able to offer the vaccine to every adult in the United Kingdom—every eligible group from 1 to 9 and then phase 2—we will then look at our vaccine supply strategy. At the moment, we are nowhere near having enough supply to be able to make that offer. That has to be our priority. She mentions COVAX, but that is only part of the story for us in the United Kingdom. We have put about £450 million-plus into COVAX, but a total of £1.3 billion into the vaccine initiative of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. We are, I think, the largest donor, not only in money but per capita. We are making a big, big impact globally in both research and development, and vaccinations to low and middle-income countries.

I appreciate that colleagues have complicated questions to ask the Minister and that the answers are therefore also complicated, but I must ask for a bit more speed now, because we have taken an hour. I should stop proceedings on this item of business, but I will not do so because I appreciate that there are important questions to be asked. I urge Members to go just a little faster.

First, let me offer my congratulations to the Minister on achieving more than 10 million vaccinations. I wonder whether he will comment on how soon I will be able to wander down to my local chemist to get a jab, as I did for flu.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s congratulations. I stand on the shoulders of heroes; it is the army of the NHS family, volunteers and our armed forces that is doing the real heavy lifting in this deployment.

I visited Cullimore chemist in Edgware, a brilliant independent chemist that is delivering the vaccination programme. At the moment, the limiting factor is the ability to do 1,000 vaccine doses a week because of the finite amount of vaccine. However, as we get more volume through, I, like my hon. Friend, want to see convenience, so that someone can walk down the road to their local chemist. I look forward to doing that with him, I hope, one day.

We know that all vaccinations are captured in real time and populate GP records within 24 hours. However, only the aggregated data is provided to local vaccination leads. It is absolutely necessary that they receive line-by-line data at citizen level to enable them to respond immediately to low uptake—for example from BAME communities—or accessibility issues in identified cohorts. When will the Minister provide local vaccination leads with the detailed line-by-line vaccination data that is required to level up the fight against this deadly disease, and can he explain why it is not already being shared?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to share as much granular data as possible with local public health officials and, of course, make sure that local government can target home by home, individual by individual, as soon as possible. I want to see the CCG-level data published, and the NHS will be doing that very soon. We continue to make sure that we work closely with local government to understand what additional data is needed, and I mentioned Eleanor Kelly joining the team from local government. That is exactly my intention, and the hon. Gentleman raises a really important question, because if we are going to target and reach the hard-to-reach groups in the BAME community, we need that information.

I wholeheartedly congratulate my hon. Friend and all those involved in delivering over 10 million vaccines to the most vulnerable in our communities right across the UK, including at the vaccination hub opened on Tuesday at Ludlow racecourse with support to the local NHS from Royal Air Force medics, volunteers from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service and Shropshire Council, and many community volunteers. May I ask my hon. Friend to consider most carefully, for those areas where deployment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine proved especially difficult —for example, primary care networks covering remote rural areas, with small GP practices and a sparse population, and lacking suitable premises to host large numbers per day, such as in south-west Shropshire—whether deliveries of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be prioritised to ensure that the priority group targets are met?

My right hon. Friend will appreciate the importance of maximising the vaccine available to GPs by using both the Pfizer vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, but in recent weeks the volume of Oxford-AstraZeneca going to GP sites has been higher than that of Pfizer, allowing the flex to visit the housebound and care homes and to deploy at individual practices in rural areas, as he rightly points out. Any site that wishes to discuss its vaccine allocations should do so with its local system in the first instance, and thereafter with the NHS regional team, but I am very happy to look at any specific examples.

The Minister was uncharacteristically coy in answer to the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) about how we will kick on after the top four priority groups have been vaccinated. Will he give us a bit more detail about when he believes all adults over 50 will have received their vaccination? Clearly there are members of his own party who wish to open up faster than that, and with more than 1,000 people a day still dying, we have to ensure that we make the right decisions.

I will keep it short, Madam Deputy Speaker. My target is mid-February for the top four cohorts. Either I or the Secretary of State will then come to the Dispatch Box to share with the House the plan beyond category 4, into categories 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Will the Minister join me in thanking the staff of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, our GP practices and the many volunteers who have worked so hard in recent weeks to deliver more than 100,000 doses of vaccine across Aberconwy and the beautiful but rural north Wales? Can he confirm that Public Health Wales has received enough vaccine doses to vaccinate the first four priority groups in Wales by mid-February?

I will certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the GPs and their teams and the many volunteers. I can confirm that Wales and the Welsh NHS will have received the allocation for groups 1 to 4 by mid-February for them to be able to do that, and I commend them for the work they are doing.

Unpaid carers provide a huge service to our community in South Lakeland, especially for the people they care for directly. If they get ill, that is a huge welfare risk for the people they care for. There has been confusion over whether unpaid carers will be prioritised for the vaccine, because although the Government said that they would be in priority group 6, they are missing from other communications, including the summary list in the vaccine delivery plan. Will the Minister clarify once and for all that unpaid carers rightly will be on the priority list?

Lockdown has affected the mental wellbeing of almost everyone in this country. The vaccine programme will mean that the NHS comes into contact with almost every adult in the country. With that in mind, will the Minister consider having a mental health worker at all the national vaccine centres, to provide opportunistic mental health interventions should people need it?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s excellent, thoughtful suggestion. I will certainly take that away and discuss it with the Minister responsible in the Department.

Thank you. We have covered a lot of ground. I will now suspend the House for three minutes, so that the Chamber can be prepared for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.

Bill Presented

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Penny Mordaunt, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Secretary Robert Buckland, and Secretary Elizabeth Truss, presented a Bill to make provision for payments to or in respect of Ministers and holders of Opposition offices on maternity leave.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 255) with explanatory notes (Bill 255-EN).