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Covid-19 Vaccination Programme

Volume 706: debated on Wednesday 5 January 2022

The UK’s covid-19 vaccination programme continues to protect the nation against the virus. In light of the omicron variant, we have accelerated the deployment of the vaccination programme to make vaccine accessible to all those eligible. Thanks to the remarkable work of the NHS, volunteers, the armed forces and everyone involved in the vaccination programme, more than 34 million boosters and third doses have now been administered in the UK. On Thursday 30 December, we reached the target we set to offer all eligible adults in England boosters by the end of December. However, our fight against the virus does not stop there and we urge everyone to play their part in protecting the country by taking up the vaccine and booster offer without delay.

Following emerging data on the spread of the omicron variant and careful consideration of available data, the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has published further advice on the covid-19 vaccination programme. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has accepted this advice and all four parts of the UK intend to follow the JCVI’s advice.

At this time, the JCVI has advised the following[1]:

A two-dose primary course of Pfizer vaccine should be offered to children aged five to 11 who are either in an at-risk group as per the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA’s) Green Book or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed.

Booster vaccination eligibility should be expanded to include all those aged 16 and 17 not already included in an at-risk group, no earlier than three months after completion of their primary course.

Booster vaccination should be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds who are either in an at-risk group—as per Table 4 of UKHSA’s Green Book—or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed. Booster vaccine should be offered no earlier than three months after completion of their primary course.

Booster vaccination should be offered to those aged 12-15 who are severely immunosuppressed and who have had a third primary dose, no earlier than three months after completion of the third dose.

The NHS is working through updated guidance and will set out how this is going to be operationalised, in the new year.

The JCVI will continue to review the programme and options for maximising health benefits alongside closely monitoring the rapidly evolving data on the omicron variant of concern.

With the vaccine offer opened to those aged five to 11 in an at-risk group and deployment of the extended booster vaccine offer, I am now updating the House on the liabilities HMG has taken on in relation to further vaccine supply via this statement and the Departmental Minutes containing a description of the liability undertaken. The agreement to provide indemnity with deployment of further booster doses to the population increases the statutory contingent liability of the covid-19 vaccination programme.

Given the urgency with which we required JCVI advice and now deployment, we regret that it has not been possible to provide 14 sitting days’ notice to consider these issues in advance of announcing the planned extension to the booster programme in the UK.

Deployment of effective vaccines to eligible groups has been and remains a key part of the Government’s strategy to manage covid-19. Willingness to accept the need for appropriate indemnities to be given to vaccine suppliers has helped to secure access to vaccines, with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike, much sooner than may have been the case otherwise.

Given the exceptional circumstances we are in, and the terms on which developers have been willing to supply a covid-19 vaccine, we along with other nations have taken a broad approach to indemnification proportionate to the situation we are in.

Even though the covid-19 vaccines have been developed at pace, at no point and at no stage of development has safety been bypassed. The MHRA approval for use of the currently deployed vaccines clearly demonstrates that these vaccines have satisfied, in full, all the necessary requirements for safety, effectiveness, and quality. We are providing indemnities in the very unexpected event of any adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures that have been put in place.

I will update the House in a similar manner as and when other covid-19 vaccines or additional doses of vaccines already in use in the UK are deployed.

HM Treasury has approved the proposal.

[1] JCVI statement on covid-19 vaccination of children and young people: 22 December 2021— www.gov.uk.

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