Nadhim Zahawi – 2021 Statement on Vaccinations

The statement made by Nadhim Zahawi, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 11 January 2021.

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.