Nadhim Zahawi – 2021 Statement on the Covid-19 Vaccine

The statement made by Nadhim Zahawi, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 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.