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Covid-19 Vaccination Programme

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 23 February 2021

I am delighted that on 14 February we hit our target of vaccinating 15 million people across the UK and now more than 17.7 million people—one in three adults in the country—have been vaccinated. The NHS is delivering more than 250 vaccinations every minute, on average, and we are vaccinating at a greater weekly rate than anywhere else in Europe.

The Government’s vaccine programme, procurement and roll-out has been described as “world-beating”. Those are not my words, but those of the Public Accounts Committee, which has Scottish National party, Labour and Lib Dem Members on it. Will the Secretary of State just clarify the link between the vaccine programme and the road map, because it is the return to normality, as far as is possible, that we want to see as soon as possible?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make this link, because not only are the vaccines important to keep each individual safe—we saw wonderful data yesterday about how effective they are at reducing hospitalisations and deaths—but the vaccination programme is crucial to the road map out of this pandemic. It is only because of the success of the vaccine programme that we are able to set out the road map in this way. The vaccine is good for the individual, but it is also good for all of us, because by taking a vaccine people are helping to protect themselves and helping all of us to get out of this pandemic situation.

The provision of insufficient doses for care home staff to be vaccinated at the same time as elderly residents may have contributed to the fact that only two thirds have been immunised. As well as the convenience, the solidarity of being vaccinated with colleagues has helped to encourage uptake of 94% in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State ensure that staff can get vaccinated when second doses are delivered to care homes?

Yes, when the vaccination programme goes to a care home, vaccines are offered both to residents and to staff, of course. We want to support the ability of more and more people to access the vaccine, and that includes care home staff. People who work in a care home can now go on to the national vaccination site and book themselves an appointment. Alternatively, when we go to give the second dose to residents, any staff who have not yet taken up the opportunity of a vaccine will have the offer of getting going on the programme. I hope that care home staff and NHS staff across the board will listen to the words of the chief medical officer, who said that it is the “professional responsibility” of people who work in care settings to get vaccinated. It is the right thing to do.

More vaccine-resistant strains, such as the South African variant, could risk undermining the UK’s vaccine programme. As they could come via any country, does the Secretary of State not agree that all travellers should undergo strict quarantine?

Yes, I do. All those who arrive in this country as passengers need to undergo quarantine, and we have both the hotel quarantine and home quarantine; all need to be tested; and all the positive test results are sent for sequencing so that we can spot any new variants. This is a critical part of our national defences. The good news is that we can see from the data that the number of new variants in the country is falling and is much lower than it was last month. We obviously keep a very close eye on that, because making sure that we do not have a new variant that cannot be beaten by the vaccine is a critical part of the road map, as set out by the Prime Minister yesterday.

The Prime Minister promised that all staff in elderly care homes would be vaccinated by the end of January. Will the Secretary of State confirm that more than 30% of those staff in England have not been vaccinated, and that the proportion rises to almost half of all staff in elderly care homes in London? Will he urgently set out precisely how the Government will increase uptake and tackle lies and misinformation about the vaccine among this vital group of workers, as we have been urging the Minister for Care to do since before Christmas?

Yes. We are absolutely all on the same side on this issue. To be totally clear for the hon. Lady, and all those listening, the Prime Minister set out that we would offer the vaccine to all residents of care homes by the end of January and to all staff by 15 February, and we achieved that. The challenge is uptake. Rather than having a political ding-dong about it, what we all need to do is get out the positive messages about the vaccination programme. I am delighted that the Minister for Care and the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment have both been working incredibly hard on this issue, and we published an uptake plan last weekend. I am sure the hon. Lady will want to join the efforts to try to encourage everybody to get the jab.