Debate on an e-petition relating to rollout of covid-19 vaccinations | Westminster Hall | 6pm – Monday 11 January, 2021
Today, I would have wanted to have spoken in the debate in Westminster Hall. However the continued belief of the Leader of the House, that MPs should be in Westminster to debate, and due to the very serious health emergency in London, I am having to present my speech in an alternative way from my constituency in York.
Over the coming weeks, I will be publishing speeches, and writing to Ministers, in order to ensure that I represent my constituents and they have their voice heard.
In response to the petition on vaccines, I too wanted to join with the 744 constituents who signed the petition, to raise a number of concerns over the distribution and administration of vaccines.
Firstly, I want to thank the whole scientific community for their dedication and excellence in working to bring a vaccine to licensing and now distribution. The pace of this process has been ground breaking and has brought the only hope we have of moving on from this crisis. Witnessing this process has shown the brilliance of our research community, how they can collaborate and cooperate, and how when medical research is funded, then amazing outcomes can be achieved. If I may at this point, just raise the matter, debated in Westminster Hall just ahead of the Chancellors Spending Review, the Life Science Charity Partnership Fund. This is just to enable current research programmes to continue, in the strength of the UK’s unique partnership of charities, universities and the public and private sectors. The Chancellor has yet to consent to provide this funding, and I ask the Minister to make this plea on behalf of all Medical Research Charities, that as research programmes are paused and cancelled, medical research is regressing. I trust he will introduce such a fund in his budget speech, if not before.
I know that many areas of medicine, whilst understanding the reason for investment, will be looking on and hoping that learning can be brought from this experience, so we can witness many more treatments and cures brought forward. We have seen the public cooperating in clinical trials and I thank them all for stepping forward; it has been a national effort. Now we are seeing the most challenging roll out of the manufacture, distribution and administration of the vaccine.
I do not underestimate the scale of this challenge, and understand why the ambitious targets set by the Government will be difficult to meet. I know in York, many elderly residents turned up for their vaccine, only to be turned away as the promised dosages did not arrive in time. Distressing for those that built themselves up to attend, in the hope that they can be made safe.
I also want to raise the matter of public toilets. Can we ensure that facilities are on site, Covid-secure of course. In York, visits, which should be avoided, to the local supermarket are taking place due to the lack of facilities.
However I want to raise a few issues. We need to ensure that the vaccine is taken into the community as soon as possible. While accessible drive through centres may work if you have someone in your household or bubble to take you, but if not, then I have heard of elderly vulnerable people using public transport. Can we enable, this most vulnerable of cohorts to be offered alternatives, close to home, if they cannot access the vaccination sites.
I want to turn to the issue of administration. Firstly the Government were slow at responding to the suggestion of mixing vaccines, which thankfully scientists clearly explained would not work. However after a commitment was made to the most vulnerable residents – those over 80 and those in care homes, that they would receive 2 injections 21 days apart, it is wrong to change this now.
I have written to the Minister, yet to receive a reply, on calling for clear evidence:
- That following the second dose of the vaccine at 84 days, it will have the same efficacy as the second dose being delivered at 21 days and for this to be true for each of the Pfizer vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine and the Moderna vaccine.
- For there to be better understanding as to why many countries in the EU have settled on 42 days between vaccinations, and why the science differs?
- If that data is not available, then it is inappropriate to change the administration programme without first the evidence. To conduct a clinical trial on most susceptible to experience serious consequences of the virus would be unethical.
While understanding the need to get some layer of protection in place through vaccinating as many people as possible as soon as possible, not least with the threat that there could be further mutations of the virus, I wonder why the Government did not continue to vaccinate the over 80s and care home residents with the 21 day window, as this would have given time for a further clinical trial and would not have broken confidence and trust with the British people. Other cohorts could have had a different administration regime if the science had then supported this. As things are, this is challenging enough, without sewing more confusion.
To lose public confidence in a major public health exercise could have serious consequences. This programme is being complied to by the public through their consent. It is this consent which is enabling us to ensure that Covid19 becomes something of the past. Therefore it is essential that the Government clearly publishes its evidence and I would welcome the Minister to do so in responding to the debate.
Finally, a straight message to my constituents. When you get called for the vaccine, please take this up. If you have any challenges getting to the site, or any concerns then please do not hesitate to get in touch and set those out. This national effort will not only keep you safe, but our community and enable us all to come back together again.