The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Matt Hancock)
I would like to update the House on our work to beat this pandemic and to make sure that the world is prepared for the pandemics of the future.
Tomorrow, we mark six months since the world began vaccinating against covid-19 at Coventry Hospital. In that time, we have vaccinated over 40 million people here in the UK, and 2 billion doses have been delivered across the globe. As of today, 76% of UK adults have been vaccinated at least once, and 52% of adults have had two jabs. The pace of the vaccine roll-out has been extraordinary. This Saturday alone, the team delivered over 675,000 jabs, and I am delighted to be able to tell the House that, from this week, we will start offering vaccinations to people under 30, bringing us ever closer to the goal of offering a vaccine to all adults in the UK by the end of next month.
From tomorrow morning, we will open up vaccination to people aged 25 to 29. Over the remainder of this week, the NHS will send texts to people in those age groups, and, of course, GPs will be inviting people on their list to come forward. I am sure we have all been cheered by the images we have seen of so many eligible young people coming forward and lining up to get the jab, showing that the enthusiasm for the jab is not just the preserve of older generations. The people of this country know what it takes to keep themselves and the people around them safe. The latest estimates indicate that the vaccination programme has averted over 39,000 hospitalisations and over 13,000 deaths. So the vaccination brings us hope, and I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking people for their perseverance and patience as they have waited for their turn.
For all that great progress, there is no room for complacency. The delta variant, first identified in India, has made the race between the virus and the vaccination effort tighter. Although the size of the delta variant’s growth advantage is unclear, the recent best scientific estimate is of an advantage of at least 40% over the previously dominant alpha variant—the so-called Kent variant. The delta variant now makes up the vast majority of all new infections in this country.
Over the past week, we have seen case rates rise, particularly in the north-west of England, but we know also that our surge testing system can help hold this growth. In Bolton, case rates over the past fortnight have been falling. We have expanded the approach taken in Bolton to other areas, and we will roll it out to other areas as necessary. I encourage everybody in those areas to get the tests on offer, no matter where they live. Regular tests can help to keep us all safe, and we know that the test, trace and isolate system has a vital role to play in keeping this all under control.
Of course, the most important tool we have is that vaccination programme. We know that the vaccine is breaking the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths—a link that was rock-solid back in the autumn. Despite the rise in cases, hospitalisations have been broadly flat. The majority of people in hospital with covid appear not to have had a vaccine at all. I want to update the House on some new information that we have on this. As of 3 June, our data show that of the 12,383 cases of the delta variant, 464 people went on to present at emergency care and 126 were admitted to hospital. Of those 126 people, 83 were unvaccinated, 28 had received one dose and just three had received both doses of vaccine. We should all be reassured by that, because it shows that those vaccinated groups, who previously made up the vast majority of hospitalisations, are now in the minority. So the jabs are working, and we have to keep coming forward to get them. That includes, vitally, that second jab, which we know gives better protection against the delta variant.
The confidence in our jabs comes from the fact that they are working and the knowledge that they are the best way out of the pandemic. No one wants our freedoms to be restricted a single day longer than is necessary. I know the impact that these restrictions have on the things we love, on our businesses and on our mental health. It is still too early to make decisions on step 4. The road map has always been guided by the data and, as before, we need four weeks between steps to see the latest data and a further week, to give notice of our decision. So we will assess the data and announce the outcome a week today, on 14 June.
I know that these restrictions have not been easy. With our vaccine programme moving at such pace, I am confident that one day soon freedom will return. To do this, we must stay vigilant, especially at this time when schoolchildren are returning to classrooms after the half-term break and when we are seeing the highest rises in positive cases among secondary school-aged children. With schools returning today, it is vital that every secondary school-aged child takes a test twice a week to protect them, to help keep schools open and to stop transmission. That is crucial to stop the spread and to protect the education of their peers. While the evidence shows that the impact of covid on children is usually minimal, we also know that there is higher transmissibility among children, so the message to all parents of secondary school-aged children is: please get your child tested twice a week to help keep the pandemic under control and to help on the road to recovery.
The House will also be aware that our independent medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, has conducted a review of the clinical trial data for the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Having already concluded that the vaccine is safe and effective for people over the age of 16, it has also now concluded that the jab is safe and effective for children aged between 12 and 15 years old, with the benefits of vaccination clearly outweighing any risks. I can confirm to the House that I have asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the committee that advises us on immunisations, to come forward with clinical advice on vaccinating 12 to 17-year-olds, and we will listen to that clinical advice, just as we have done throughout the pandemic.
People in this country know that vaccines are the way out, but this pandemic will not be over until it is over everywhere. This week, the Prime Minister will host G7 leaders in Cornwall, where he will work to persuade our allies to join the UK in our historic commitment to vaccinate the whole world against covid-19 by the end of 2022. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has already proved to be a vital tool in this effort, with more than half a billion doses now released for supply around the world and, crucially, delivered at cost. In my view, this approach—providing vaccines at cost—is the best way to vaccinate the world. Developing a vaccine and allowing countries to manufacture it at cost is the greatest gift that this nation could have given the world during the pandemic.
In Oxford, ahead of this week’s G7 leaders summit, I met G7 Health Ministers and guests from some of the world’s largest democracies. Our new clinical trials charter, agreed in Oxford, will help end unnecessary duplication of clinical trials and ensure greater collaboration across borders, resulting in faster access to approve treatments and vaccines. We reached agreement with industry leaders to cut to just 100 days the time that it takes to develop and deploy new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. As a result of what we have agreed in Oxford, there will be people who will live who otherwise might have died, and I can think of no greater outcome than that.
In summary, beating this pandemic is not only an international imperative, but a domestic duty that falls on each one of us. We must keep up the basics, such as hands, face, space and fresh air, get regular tests and, of course, when we get the call, get both jabs, because that is the way that we can stop the spread and get out of this and restore the freedoms that we hold dear safely and together. I commend this statement to the House.