Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment, responds to a Westminster Hall style debate on vaccine take-up rates in London.
The Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment (Nadhim Zahawi)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. It is truly wonderful to be back with Westminster Hall debates.
Before I respond to the various points made by hon. Members, I thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for his collegiate way in highlighting some of the concerns and working together to address them, as well as for raising the issue of covid vaccinations in London, which is at the forefront of many Londoners’ minds.
It is worth reminding ourselves of where we were at the turn of the year, before the vaccine roll-out really gathered pace. In early January, we were seeing more than 50,000 new cases of covid and around 4,500 people admitted to hospital every day. Sadly, we were seeing more than 1,000 deaths every day. In London alone, there were more than 1,100 deaths a week. Each one of those deaths was of a grandmother or grandfather, mother or father, daughter or son, or in my case an uncle; each of them desperately missed by their families. We cannot prevent every death, but we are on the road to making sure that such tragedies are less commonplace.
Recent Public Health England data shows that levels of antibodies against covid-19 are highest in the over-80s, the first group to be vaccinated. It also tells us that a single dose of either the Oxford or the Pfizer vaccine delivers protection against severe infection in the over-70s, with a more than 80% reduction in hospitalisation. The vaccine is working and having a real impact, protecting the NHS, protecting individuals and putting us on the right track out of the pandemic.
I am pleased that enthusiasm for vaccination is still incredibly high and rising, in fact, week on week. When I took on this job, the percentage was in the late-70s in the adult population; now 94% say they would be willing to have the jab. I have read glowing words from people who have received the vaccine. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, there is Doris Sargeant, a 90-year-old former hairdresser, who was determined to get the vaccine to make sure she can see her family once lockdown is eased, or Jan Keith, for whom the vaccine means hope for reintegration into a better quality of life after almost a year of shielding alone. These stories are replicated many times across London and the rest of the country. I am determined that we will continue to hear more of these personal triumphs over the coming weeks and months of the roll-out.
On 22 February, the Prime Minister set out the new targets for the acceleration of the programme. We set an ambitious aim to offer all adults over 50 a first dose by mid-April and the rest of the adult population by the end of July. I reassure hon. Members that we are on track to meet those targets. Although day-to-day figures for vaccine supply vary and a few days are better than others, overall we are working towards accelerating the pace of the roll-out, as many hon. Members have indicated. We have some bumper weeks ahead, from the middle of this month, allowing us to ramp up vaccination during March.
I know that hon. Members have raised the issue of uptake rates in London and vaccine hesitancy. I am concerned about uptake in the BAME communities, which is why I spend a great deal of my time talking to community leaders about how we can reassure people about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. On 13 February, we published our covid-19 vaccine uptake strategy, which aims to improve uptake across all communities. This was very much a strategy developed by our NHS, backed by the Department and local government.
The plan takes a local community-led approach, with support from the Government, NHS England and local authorities to co-ordinate and enable action. It includes engagement at local level, using trusted voices, sharing examples of what is known to work well in nearby areas and encouraging community-led efforts to address vaccine disinformation. We are absolutely committed to providing advice and information at every possible opportunity to support those getting the vaccine and anyone who might have questions about the vaccination process.
The community champions scheme, which was mentioned earlier, councils and voluntary organisations will deliver a wide range of measures to protect those most at risk. They are building trust, communicating accurate health information and ultimately helping to save lives. This will include developing new networks of trusted local champions where they do not already exist.
The funding is specifically targeted at areas with plans to reach groups such as older people, disabled people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. According to the latest evidence, these individuals are more likely to suffer long-term impacts, as we have heard from colleagues, and poor outcomes from covid-19. We have put £23 million to work on this in 16 local areas.
Hon. Members have raised the issue of how vaccine supplies are managed in London at a local level. I want to reassure hon. Members that our supply and scheduled deliveries of vaccine will fully support the vaccination of priority groups 1 to 9, which the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation set, by mid-April. The UK has secured access to eight different possible vaccines across four different vaccine types, reflecting our strategy to ensure that we not only deliver the vaccines now but future-proof any vaccination programme—a booster or annual vaccination programme—in years to come.
Parts of the country have made significant progress, as we have heard, and gone faster than the average. We are putting more supply into areas, and I reassure colleagues that we will do more. The NHS is doing brilliantly to deliver the amount of supply we have. London vaccine allocations are now managed at a London regional level. Prioritisation is based on the uptake data; where the vaccine is most needed and which delivery methods are used are decided at a system level. We have heard about pop-up sites. Roving models are also used to take the vaccine to the under-served communities that we have heard so much about. Colleagues have been very supportive. We have an MPs’ toolkit to support the vaccination effort in their areas, which has done incredibly well.
Before I finish, I want to address some of the more specific points raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith and others. The hon. Member raised the issue of the Novotel opening next week. I can confirm that it will open next week as a vaccination centre. There are 200 sites across London now vaccinating. I know that some people have issues about travel, but I know also that Age UK, for example, and some other brilliant charities have come forward to offer free travel for the over-50s to get them to vaccination sites.
The hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) raised a specific point about confusion between ONS data and NIMS data. I will just point out to her that, on occasion, there is double counting. ONS data is purely age based, and at-risk people or the workforce in care homes will be double counted in that data. The NIMS data is more accurate, but, for the sake of full transparency, the NHS has made both datasets available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) raised the specific issue of vaccine supply. I can reassure him that we are about to see a massive step change in vaccine supply to his constituency. Of course, we need to make sure that we do not make a mistake, as he quite rightly warned us, with second doses. I can assure him of that, and I will take another look at his point about the mass vax centre closures.
The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) raised a number of specific issues about Acton town, which I will take up with her.
The hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) talked about unregistered people. They can actually register at any GP practice, because we have amended the contracts to allow GPs to take on more people who are unregistered, including those who are undocumented, who have the ability to be vaccinated, because we want everyone to be protected.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), again, raised a number of issues about health inequalities. A standing agenda item in our daily ops meetings in the deployment programme is about health inequalities, and the strategy that I mentioned earlier, which we launched on 13 February, is very much part of that.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) raised a very important issue about Ramadan and the use of mosques. I was at the Brent mosque last week to see how brilliantly it was doing by really getting into the community. I remind colleagues that Dr Habib Naqvi has said that the contents of the vaccines are halal and it would not invalidate a person’s fast if they were to be vaccinated in Ramadan.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith needs to close the debate, so I will end with a quotation from the director of public health for Newham Council that sums up the collaboration and partnership. He last week said:
“Over 50000 in Newham now vaccinated! Long way to go but real progress. All 60+ can book online + this week popup clinics at
Sri Murugan Temple
Minhaj Ul Quran
Redeemed Christian Church of God
East Ham leisure centre
& homeless clinic - real partnership”.
That is what we are doing; that is what I am determined to deliver for those communities; no one will be left behind. I am grateful to colleagues for this very important debate.