Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment, makes a statement to the House of Commons on the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Plan.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Nadhim Zahawi)
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the covid-19 vaccine delivery plan. The plan, published today, sets out the strategies that underpin the development, manufacture and deployment of our vaccines against covid-19. It represents a staging post in our national mission to vaccinate against the coronavirus, and a culmination of many months of hard work from the NHS, our armed forces, Public Health England, and every level of local government in our Union. There are many miles to go on this journey, but, armed with this plan, our direction of travel is clear.
We should be buoyed by the progress that we are already making. As of today, in England, 2.33 million vaccinations have been given, with 1.96 million receiving their first dose and 374,613 having already received both doses. We are on track to deliver our commitment of offering a first vaccine to everyone in the most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month. These are groups, it is worth reminding ourselves, that account for more than four out of every five fatalities from the covid virus, or some 88% of deaths. But of course this is a delivery plan for everyone—a plan that will see us vaccinate all adults by the autumn in what is the largest programme of vaccination of its kind in British history.
The UK vaccines delivery plan sets out how we can achieve that noble, necessary and urgent goal. The plan rests on four key pillars: supply, prioritisation, places and people. On supply, our approach to vaccines has been to move fast and to move early. We had already been heavily investing in the development of new vaccines since 2016, including funding a vaccine against another coronavirus: middle east respiratory syndrome. At the start of this year, this technology was rapidly repurposed to develop a vaccine for covid-19, and in April we provided £20 million of further funding so that the Oxford clinical trials could commence immediately. Today, we are the first country to buy, authorise and use that vaccine.
Also in April, we established the UK Government’s Vaccine Task Force, or VTF for short, and since then it has worked relentlessly to build a wide portfolio of different types of vaccine, signing early deals with the most promising prospects. It is a strategy that has really paid off. As of today, we have secured access to 367 million doses from seven vaccine developers with four different vaccine types, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which we were also the first in the world to buy, authorise and use. The VTF has also worked on our homegrown manufacturing capability, including what is referred to as the “fill and finish” process, in collaboration with Wockhardt in Wrexham. Anticipating a potential global shortage early on, we reserved manufacturing capacity to allow for the supply of multiple vaccines to the United Kingdom. Like many capabilities in this pandemic, it is one that we have never had before, but one that we can draw on today. So much of that critical work undertaken early has placed us in a strong position for the weeks and months ahead.
The second pillar of our plan is prioritisation. As I set out earlier, essential work to protect those at the greatest clinical risk is already well under way. The basic principle that sits behind all of this is to save as many lives as possible as quickly as possible. In addition, we are working at speed to protect staff in our health and social care system. All four UK chief medical officers agree with the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to prioritise the first doses for as many people on the priority list as possible and administer second doses towards the end of the recommended vaccine dosing schedule of 12 weeks. That step will ensure the protection of the greatest number of at-risk people in the shortest possible time.
The third pillar of our plan is places. As of yesterday, across the United Kingdom, we have more than 2,700 vaccination sites up and running. There are three types of site. First, we have large vaccination centres that use big venues such as football stadiums; we saw many of those launched today. At these, people will be able to get appointments using our national booking service. The second type is our hospital hubs, working with NHS trusts across the country. The third is our local vaccination services, which are made up of sites led by GPs working in partnership with primary care trusts and, importantly, with community pharmacists.
This mix of different types of site offers the flexibility that we need to reach many different and diverse groups and, importantly, to be able to target as accurately as we can. By the end of January, everyone will be within 10 miles of a vaccination site. In a small number of highly rural areas, the vaccination centre will be a mobile unit. It bears repeating that, when it is their turn, we want as many people as possible to take up the offer of a vaccine against covid-19.
The fourth and final pillar is, of course, our people. I am grateful to the many thousands who have joined this mission—this national mission. We now have a workforce of some 80,000 people ready to be deployed across the country. This includes staff currently working within the NHS of course, but also volunteers through the NHS Bring Back Staff scheme, such as St John Ambulance personnel, independent nurses and occupational health service providers. There are similar schemes across the devolved Administrations.
Trained vaccinators, non-clinical support staff such as stewards, first aiders, administrators and logistics support will also play their part. We are also drawing on the expertise of our UK armed forces, whose operational techniques—brought to life by Brigadier Phil Prosser at the press conference with the Prime Minister a few days ago—have been tried and tested in some of the toughest conditions imaginable. I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking everyone who has played their part in getting us to this point, and all those who will play an important role in the weeks and months ahead.
We recognise that transparency about our vaccine plan will be central to maintaining public trust, and we are committed to publishing clear and simple updates. Since 24 December, we have published weekly UK-wide data on the total number of vaccinations and the breakdown of over and under-80s for England. From today, we are publishing daily data for England showing the total number vaccinated to date. The first daily publication was this afternoon. From Thursday, and then weekly, NHS England will publish a more detailed breakdown of vaccinations in England, including by region.
This continues to be a difficult time for our country, for our NHS and for everyone as we continue to live under tough restrictions, but we have always known that a vaccine would be our best way out of this evil pandemic, and that is the road we are now taking. We are under no illusion as to the scale of the challenge ahead and the distance we still have to travel. In more normal times, the largest vaccination programme in British history would be an epic feat, but against the backdrop of a global pandemic and a new, more transmissible variant, it is a huge challenge. With this House and indeed the whole nation behind this national mission, I have every confidence that it will be a national success. I commend this statement to the House.
Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
We meet today at a challenging moment in the handling of the pandemic. We have growing infection rates, we are in lockdown, businesses are shut and schools are closed, and tragically more than 80,000 people have already lost their lives to this awful virus. The vaccine provides us with a light, a glimmer of hope, and a way to beat the virus, saving lives and getting us back to normal.
The Government succeeded in the development of a vaccine—investing in multiple candidates has paid off handsomely—but a vaccine alone does not make a vaccination programme. Given the Government’s failures with the test and trace system and the procurement of personal protective equipment, it is right that we scrutinise the plans carefully.
The plan is quite conventional: aside from the new big vaccination centres, it uses traditional delivery mechanisms operating within traditional opening and access times. The Opposition have some concerns about that, as we believe that exceptional circumstances call for an exceptional response. At the No. 10 briefing earlier today, 24/7 access was said to be something that people would not be interested in, which surprised me; I would like to hear from the Minister the basis for that view.
Similarly, there is the mass deployment of community spaces and volunteer mobilisation unprecedented in peacetime. It is the Government’s prerogative to choose their approach, but I am keen to hear from the Minister assurance that the plan as written and set out today will deliver on what has been promised: the top four priority categories covered by the middle of next month. On a recent call, the Minister said that the only limiting factor on the immunisation programme would be the speed of supply. Will he publicly reaffirm that and confirm that this plan will make maximum use of the supply as he expects to get it?
I think we would all agree that our frontline NHS and social care heroes deserve to be protected. At the beginning of the pandemic, our staff were left for too long without adequate personal protective equipment, and we must not repeat that with the vaccine. Protecting them is the right thing to do, reflecting the risks that they face, but it is also pragmatically a point of emphasis for us, because we need them to be well in order to keep doing the incredible job that they are doing.
We are currently missing about 46,000 NHS staff for covid reasons. The health and social care workforce are in category 2 in the plan, but there does not seem to be a national-level emphasis on inoculating them immediately.
There seems to be significant variation between trust areas. Will the Minister commit today to meeting our demand that they all get their vaccines within the next fortnight? We very much welcome the clear and simple metrics that he is going to publish each day so that we can follow the successes of the programme, but as part of that, will he commit to publicising the daily total of health and care staff vaccinated, so that we can see the progress being made against that vital metric, too?
It was reassuring to see pharmacies included in the plan. They are at the heart of all the communities in our country, they are trusted and they already deliver mass vaccinations. It was disappointing and surprising to see them having to take to the front pages of national newspapers last week to get the Government’s attention, but now, with them in the plan, will the Minister reassure the House that he is fully engaged with their representative bodies and that they are satisfied that they are being used properly? The number that has been trailed publicly is of 200 participating pharmacies, but given that there are 11,500 community pharmacies in England, can that really be right? Why are there not more involved, or is that number wrong? If so, could the Minister share with us what the number is? On social care, 23% of elderly care home residents have been vaccinated, compared with 40% of the over-80s more generally. Given their top prioritisation, is there a reason for this lag? What plans are there to close the gap? Is the Minister confident that all care home residents will be vaccinated by the end of the month, as promised?
Finally, there has been a high level of consensus across this place, and certainly between the Minister and me, on misinformation, and we will support the Government in whatever they think they need to do to tackle it. We will have a real sense of the impacts of misinformation as the programme rolls along, particularly as we look at who is and is not declining the vaccine. Will the Minister tell us what he will be monitoring in that regard, and what the early feedback is, perhaps from our own care staff, on who has been saying yes and who has been saying no and what that might mean for the future?
We welcome the fact that the Government have published this plan. We will back them when we think they are right but we will continue to offer constructive ways to improve the process, as I hope I have just done. I hope that the Minister can address the points that I have raised.
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s backing and support. He asks a number of important questions, and I will attempt to answer them now. Suffice it to say that it would be sensible for us to recognise that test and trace now delivers 85% of those who are tested positive in terms of identifying their direct contacts and the indirect contacts at between 92% and 96%. Over 5 million people have been tested and isolated and are therefore not transmitting or spreading this virus, and 55 million people have been tested. That is a pretty major undertaking, with capacity now touching 770,000 and tests running at about 600,000 a day. From a standing start of about 2,000 a day back in March, that is a pretty remarkable achievement for NHS test and trace.
The hon. Gentleman asked about 24-hour provision. There are two priorities for the NHS, and we have looked really long and hard at this. Priority No. 1 is obviously to target very closely those four most vulnerable categories. Priority No. 2 is to try to get a vaccination to them as quickly as possible, which is about throughput. This is linked because if we were to go to a 24-hour regime, it would be much harder to target the vaccine at those four cohorts. Obviously, when we have limited vaccine volume, we do not want staff standing around waiting for people in centres that are open 24 hours. Also, many of those people are over 80, and we are going into care homes to vaccinate the residents of those homes. The decision to go from 8 to 8 was made because we want to ensure that there is an even spread and very close targeting.
That is linked to throughput—how many vaccinations can we get into people’s arms as quickly as possible? We do not want vaccines sitting in fridges or on shelves. That goes to the hon. Gentleman’s question on the 24 hours, but also the pharmacy question. All the 200 pharmacies that we are operationalising can do 1,000-plus vaccinations a week, so the focus in phase 1, certainly with the first four categories—and, I think, with the total nine categories—is very much on targeting and throughput. The 2,700 sites are the best way that we can target that. Obviously, primary care is very good at identifying those who are most vulnerable or over 80 and, of course, getting into care homes, hence why the NHS plan and the plan we have published today are very much based around those priorities.
As we enter phase 2, where we begin to want to vaccinate as many adults as quickly as possible, we want convenience of course. We want to be able to go into many more pharmacies, so people can walk to their local pharmacy, or GP, and get their jab, when we have limitless volumes of vaccines. We have clearly now got that optioned and it will come through in the weeks and months ahead. That is the reason for that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the limiting factor continues at this stage to be vaccine volumes. The NHS has built an infrastructure that can deploy the vaccine as quickly as possible, but it is vaccine volumes that will change. With any new manufacturing process, especially one where we are dealing with quite a complex process—it is a biological compound that we are producing—it tends to be lumpy at the start, but it very quickly stabilises and becomes much more even. We are beginning to see that, which is good news.
We are absolutely committed to making sure the health and social care workforce are vaccinated as quickly as possible, and of course we are committed to making sure the residents of care homes are vaccinated by the end of this month—January. I reaffirm that commitment to the hon. Gentleman.
I think the hon. Gentleman’s final question was on data. I am glad that he agrees that it is important, because the Prime Minister’s absolute instruction to us as a team is that we have to make sure we publish as much data as possible as quickly as possible, hence why we have moved to a rhythm of daily data and on the Thursday more detailed publication, which will have regional breakdowns. The NHS is committed as it builds up more data to publish more and more. The nation expects, and rightly wants to see, the speed and the targeting that we are delivering, but I am confident that the NHS has a solid plan. We have the volunteers and the Army—two great institutions of this country—delivering this campaign and with the support of Her Majesty’s Opposition I am sure we will do this.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
We now go to the Chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt.
Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con) [V]
I congratulate the Minister on getting this programme off to a flying start: to vaccinate 2 million people, including a third of over-80s, six weeks after the first dose was approved is an extraordinary achievement unmatched by any similar country. May I ask him about the speed of the roll-out? Many people want teachers to be jabbed as quickly as possible, but is it the case that all those in groups 1 to 4 will need their second jabs before we can make real inroads into other key groups? And will he publish the breakdown of numbers vaccinated not just by region but by local authority area, because a lot of people would like to know just how many people have been vaccinated in their local area?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s compliment and this is only the start. I hope that, as we progress in the weeks and months to come, the focus and the rate of output will continue to rise.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point around the critical workforce for the economy, like teachers. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation looked at all these issues and has come out very clearly in favour of us vaccinating the nine cohorts that are most vulnerable to dying from covid-19, hence why that is absolutely our focus.
We are absolutely committed to making sure that people get two doses, so if they have received their Pfizer first dose, they will get their Pfizer second dose within 12 weeks of the first dose. Similarly, if they have had their AstraZeneca first dose, they will get their AstraZeneca second dose within 12 weeks. So those people whom we will begin to reach in March, where we have to deliver their second dose, will absolutely get their second dose. But to my right hon. Friend’s point, the more vaccine volumes that will come, and we have tens of millions that will come through beyond February and into March, the faster we can begin to protect those nine categories in phase 1. The moment we have done that, then it is absolutely right that we should begin to look at categories like teachers and police officers—those who may be exposed in their workplace to the risks of this virus.
Of course, it is worth reminding the House that it is two weeks after the first dose, and three weeks after the first dose with AstraZeneca, that people begin to get that protection, not the moment they are jabbed, so there is that lag time as well. But my right hon. Friend’s point is well made: we need to make sure, as we protect greater and greater numbers of people in those nine categories, that we then move very quickly to the next dose.