With permission, I would like to make a statement about the coronavirus vaccine.
Today marks a new chapter in our fight against this virus. Ever since the pandemic hit our shores almost a year ago, we have known that a vaccine would be critical to set us free. So all through this arduous year—it has been an arduous year—while we have been working night and day to fight the virus and keep it under control, we have been striving, too, to develop the vaccines that can give us hope and let us eventually release the curbs on our freedoms that have bound us for so long.
Thanks to the incredible work of the Vaccine Taskforce, the Business Secretary and Kate Bingham, we have already amassed a huge portfolio of different vaccine candidates. We have backed seven vaccines and ordered 357 million doses on behalf of the whole UK, one of the biggest portfolios per capita in the world. We have said from the start that a vaccine must be safe and effective before we would even consider deploying it. Any vaccine must go through a rigorous process of clinical trials, involving thousands of people and extensive independent scrutiny from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, one of the world’s most respected medical regulators.
Today, I am delighted to inform the House that the MHRA has issued the clinical authorisation of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. This is a monumental step forward. It is no longer “if” there is going to be a vaccine, but “when”. In our battle against the virus, help is on its way. Today is a triumph for all those who believe in science, a triumph for ingenuity and a triumph for humanity, and I thank everyone who has played their part in this achievement. I thank the team at Pfizer, the team of scientists at BioNTech, the volunteers who stepped up and took part in clinical trials, and the MHRA itself, which made sure that this is a vaccine we can all have faith in. Thanks to their efforts, I can confirm that the UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved coronavirus vaccine for supply, and now our task is to make use of the fruits of that scientific endeavour to save lives.
We have spent months preparing for this day, so that as soon as we got the green light, we would be ready to go. We were the first country in the world to pre-order supplies of this successful vaccine, and we have 40 million doses pre-ordered for delivery over the coming months—enough for 20 million people, because two jabs are required for each person. Following authorisation, the next stage is to test each batch of the vaccine for safety. I can confirm that batch testing has been completed this morning for the first deployment of 800,000 doses of vaccine. Those doses are for the whole United Kingdom. This morning, I chaired a meeting of Health Ministers from the devolved Administrations to ensure the roll-out is co-ordinated nationwide.
This will be one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we have faced as a nation. It will be difficult. There will be challenges and complications, but I know that the NHS is equal to the task. Rolling out the vaccine, free at the point of delivery and according to clinical need, not ability to pay, is in the finest tradition of our national health service, and I am delighted to confirm that the NHS will be able to start vaccinating from early next week.
The whole purpose of the vaccine is to protect people from covid, so that we can get lives back to normal. We will prioritise the groups who are at greatest risk. This morning, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has published its advice, setting out the order of priority according to clinical need, and that includes care home residents and their carers, the over-80s and frontline health and social care workers. We will deliver according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity. The need to hold the vaccine at -70˚C makes it particularly challenging to deploy.
While we begin vaccination next week, the bulk of the vaccinations will be in the new year. I urge anyone called forward for vaccination by the NHS to respond quickly to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.
Over the next few months, we will see vaccines delivered in three different ways. First, we will begin vaccinations in hospital hubs. Secondly, we will deploy through local community services, including GPs and in due course pharmacies, too. Thirdly, we will stand up vaccination centres in conference centres and sports venues, for example, to vaccinate large numbers of people as more vaccines come on stream. This is an important step, but we are not there yet, so I stress that we must all keep playing our part, keep following the new rules that the House approved overwhelmingly yesterday and remember the basics, such as “Hands, face space”, and, “Get a test”, which we know from experience are so important in keeping the virus under control.
Before I finish, may I also update the House on another bit of good news? From today, I am absolutely thrilled to say that we can safely allow visits in care homes for those who test negative for covid-19. Coronavirus has denied so many people the simple pleasure of seeing a loved one, which is so precious to so many, especially in our care homes. This is possible only because of the success we have had in building one of the biggest testing capacities in Europe, with local and national teams working together, side by side—something we have often discussed right across this House. We have worked hard on testing. We have worked hard on the vaccine. Our strategy is suppressing the virus until a vaccine can make us safe. That strategy is working, and I am delighted that we will be able to see families and friends come together ahead of Christmas, thanks to this improvement.
This is a day to remember, frankly in a year to forget. We can see the way out of this but we are not there yet, so let us keep our resolve and keep doing our bit to keep people safe until science can make us free.
As always, I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. This is indeed fantastic news about the Pfizer vaccine, and I join him in congratulating all who have been involved in making this happen. We have rightly clapped carers throughout this crisis. I wonder if we should as a nation come together and applaud our scientists as well one evening. It is also incumbent on all of us across the House to reinforce the case that vaccination saves lives, and if it helps, I will stand alongside the Secretary State, socially distanced of course, on any platform or in any TV studio to show that we are united cross-party in promoting vaccination.
Our constituents will have legitimate questions and they should not be ridiculed for asking them, so will the Secretary of State launch a large-scale public information campaign to answer questions and encourage uptake? Will he consider sending a pamphlet, perhaps, to every household? We know that dangerous myths circulate on social media, and we repeat our offer to work with Ministers to curb online harms. I hope we can work together and take something forward on that front.
Hospital trust staff will start receiving this vaccine first. I understand that it is a massive logistical exercise, given the temperatures and the need for two doses, but could the Secretary of State tell us how many NHS staff he expects to be vaccinated by January, which is of course the time when we expect the NHS to be under the most pressure?
Where does this leave social care and care home residents and staff? There are concerns that this particular vaccine cannot be moved multiple times to care homes, so can he set out exactly how and when care home residents will receive a vaccine? Our constituents will want to know: when will primary care networks start rolling out vaccination, and when will the mass vaccination centres he has reported to the House start opening in our communities?
We have historic strengths as a country with vaccination, but in recent years we have lost our measles-free status. We know that vaccination rates can be lower in poorer and vulnerable communities and that covid has often had a disproportionate impact in these communities, so will he ensure that there is a health inequalities strategy as well in his vaccination campaign, so that black and minority ethnic groups, and the poorest and the vulnerable, do not miss out on this vaccine?
I think we all understand that restrictions will have to remain in place for some time, but can the Secretary of State offer us a timeframe or a target for when we should expect to achieve herd immunity and life gets back to normal? Will he consider publishing a route map of what restrictions could be released as vaccination rates increase? In the meantime, if someone is vaccinated, will they still have to isolate if contacted by Test and Trace, or are they now released from that obligation?
On mass testing, some directors of public health have told me that the lateral flow tests are not licensed for door-to-door testing in hotspots and therefore can only be administered at sites. If that is correct, can the Secretary of State resolve it? If is not correct, can he issue urgent clarity to directors of public health? The Government’s document published on Monday suggests that local areas could use mass testing as a freedom pass. Will he outline to the House what that means in practice? Will local areas enforce rules? What happens if some people have had the test but some have not had the test in a particular area that is supposed to be under tier 3? In the House yesterday, the Prime Minister suggested that people may want to take advantage of mass testing ahead of visiting their families this Christmas. Will the Secretary of State update the House on whether that is the plan and how that will be implemented?
We of course welcome the Secretary of State’s news on care homes, but many care homes report that they will need resources to support the testing exercise. Will those resources be in place?
Finally, if mass testing is to work in communities, people will need support to isolate, if it is found that they have covid when they are not feeling unwell. Will the Secretary of State now expand the eligibility criteria for the £500 grant?
This is a good news day, and we should all pay tribute to everyone who was involved—we should pay tribute to the scientists. I will say again, we will work together to make the case that vaccinations save lives.
The hon. Gentleman has worked supportively and constructively with the Government throughout this pandemic. I pay tribute to the approach that he has taken, and that he took again today.
I stand with the hon. Gentleman in saying that vaccinations save lives. If we can encourage anybody who might be hesitant to take a vaccine by appearing together to be vaccinated together, of course I would be happy to do that. I recommend that we have a professional vaccinate us, of course—I do not think that he would trust me to do it.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a public information campaign, and there will of course be one. He asked about health inequalities, which are a very important consideration. The best thing to support tackling health inequalities is the fact that we have a vaccine, but we absolutely need to reach all parts and all communities across the whole country.
The hon. Gentleman asked how many will be vaccinated by January. While today brings more certainty, it does not end all uncertainties. We have 800,000 doses that have now passed the batch testing, but the total number to be manufactured over this timeframe is not yet known, because it is all dependent on the manufacturing process, which is itself complicated. After all, this is not a chemical but a biological product, so I cannot answer that question—that is as yet unknowable.
The hon. Gentleman asked when the PCNs and the centres will open. The answer is very soon. We have 50 hospital hubs ready to go from next week. The PCNs are also being stood up, and the centres outside hospitals. They are all coming very soon.
The hon. Gentleman then asked when we will get to lift restrictions. Of course, I understand why not only he but almost everybody in the country wants to know the answer to this question: how many people do we have to vaccinate before we can start lifting the restrictions? The answer to that is that, while we know that the vaccine protects an individual with a 95% efficacy, we do not know the impact of the vaccine on reducing transmission, because of the problem of asymptomatic transmission, which has so bedevilled our response to this virus and made it so hard to tackle.
We do not know the answer to that question, but what we will do is to follow the same five indicators that we were discussing at length yesterday, which are the indicators of the spread of the disease. We will look at the cases, the hospitalisations and of course the number of people who die with covid, and we will hope very much that, as we vaccinate more and more vulnerable people, we will see those rates come down and therefore be able to lift the restrictions. We will have to see how the vaccination programme impacts directly on the epidemic, and then move as swiftly as we safely can to lift the restrictions, which we all want to see gone.
The hon. Gentleman asked about community testing being licensed from door to door. I have not heard about that problem—I will ensure that I get back not only to him, but to those who raised it with him, if he will work with me. I am a bit surprised to hear that. Administering the lateral flow test currently requires a professional, although we hope to move on from that, but as far as I know it can take place in any setting, hence my surprise. However, as the comment was made by a public health professional, I shall dig into it further.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman talked about the testing prospectus we launched on Monday. We hope to be able to use testing to do more things that we would not be able to do without testing. In a way, visits to care homes are an example of that, as something we can now safely recommend that we could not recommend before; so too is testing to release from quarantine people coming into this country. If there are further examples of that sort of enablement of normal life through the use of testing that can be safely done and can be approved by a director of public health and by the chief medical officer and his team, we are enthusiastic about working with local areas to deliver it on the ground.
There are lots of ideas out there, and I urge people to be creative about how we can we can use testing to enable some of the things we love to get going again in a way that keeps people safe. That is what that part of the testing prospectus was about. I am very enthusiastic about it and look forward to working with directors of public health and with colleagues in this House. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that with the roll-out of mass testing and the availability of these tests, we all, as leaders in our local communities, have a role in promoting mass testing. I am sure that there are communities across the country represented in this House that can benefit from the roll-out.
Looking around the Chamber right now, I see many people who have already approached me—not just from Lancashire. I look forward to working with colleagues in all parts of the House to promote this public health message, along with all the other important public health messages we have to promote, not least that if the NHS phones you up or sends you a letter saying that there is a vaccination slot open to you, just say yes.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this moment and the Government on the news about the Pfizer vaccine, but please can we continue to have increased honesty about what we still do not know? We do not know how long the immunity will last, we do not even know whether people who have been vaccinated can still transmit the disease, and of course we do not know whether tier 2 restrictions will succeed in bringing the R rate down. Until we can answer those questions, we will continue to need maximum effort behind contact tracing and isolation of virus spreaders.
Councils including Essex County Council need daily access to all the positive cases recorded by NHS Test and Trace immediately and without delay, so that they can make their own operations effective, so why are they having to wait 48 to 72 hours before they get the data? Also, what are the Government going to do to engage districts and their community volunteer hubs to help to persuade people to support those who must still isolate even if they have been vaccinated?
Dealing with the pandemic has been a case of dealing with uncertainty in large degree. Today we have more certainty because we know this vaccine is safe and effective, but just as I said to the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) that we do not know the effect of the vaccine on transmission, so, as my hon. Friend says, we do not know the longevity of its effectiveness.
My hon. Friend is right about another part of public health advice that all of us as local representatives can play a part in promoting: that is, engagement with contact tracing. I will write to him about access to daily data in Essex. Of course we have to wait until the test result comes in, which can sometimes lead to delay, even though the results of the majority of tests done in person now come back within 24 hours, but I agree with him in principle, so let us make it a reality in practice.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on vaccinations for all, I welcome the authorisation of the Pfizer vaccine and echo the shadow Secretary of State’s call for a public health campaign to encourage uptake. It will naturally take some time before the vaccine is widely available, so we all still need to stick to the rules and ensure that we can test, trace, isolate and support all those carrying the virus.
Last week, the Secretary of State claimed that the pilot project of mass testing in Liverpool was responsible for driving down cases, despite the city having been under lockdown for much of the time. Lateral flow tests miss up to 40% of cases, so the Government’s plan to use them to free people from isolation are causing concern among many public health and screening experts. When will the formal assessment of the pilot be published, and how can he justify already putting out tenders for £40 billion-worth of contracts to extend that approach without scientific evaluation? Would it not be better to invest some of that money in getting the traditional test, trace and isolate system working properly? Six months on, the Serco and Sitel system has still not improved, and over 40% of contacts in England are still not being informed that they should be isolating.
The Secretary of State does not often talk about it, but he knows that it is not testing but isolation that stops the spread of the virus, so if people who are carrying the virus are not isolating, no amount of mass testing will stop the spread. When I raised the King’s College London report last week which found that less than 20% of cases and only 10% of contacts were isolating, the Secretary of State claimed that the Government have data showing much higher compliance. Can he tell us the figures for isolation rates for those with covid and their contacts? People will not stay off work if it means that they cannot feed their family, so is he concerned at reports that many requests for the isolation payment are being refused? How will he ensure that those carrying the virus are financially supported to isolate and reduce its spread?
The hon. Lady says that I do not talk about contact tracing very much. I was literally answering a question on contact tracing just before her question— I talk of little else. We are publishing further data tomorrow on contact tracing, precisely in response to the question that she asks. She will see that the continued improvement of our contact tracing across the country is advancing further. I cannot say any more than that, because the figures are not being released until tomorrow.
The hon. Lady asked about scientific evaluation. We are constantly scientifically evaluating the work that is going on, especially in Liverpool. That is one of the things that the scientists who work as part of my team, in NHS Test and Trace and in Public Health England do. It is a matter of constant scientific evaluation, but we will not wait until ages after something has finished to do an overly long evaluation. We have to evaluate as we go along, because we are constantly trying to improve the response to this pandemic, and we are constantly trying to learn. I urge her to support the approach of constant learning and constant improvement. We will have to do that through the roll-out of the vaccine too.
This is a huge personal triumph for the Health Secretary, who has always backed the science. In choosing and backing on behalf of the country the first vaccine to prove efficacious, he has scored a massive goal for the country; he deserves great credit for that. It will also have global significance. I was in a meeting with the World Health Organisation this morning, which congratulated the UK on being the first country to approve a vaccine, because it will encourage other countries around the world to approve vaccines faster.
I want to ask the Health Secretary about something different, which is the plight of people with learning disabilities. He will know that Public Health England says that they are two to four times more likely to die from covid. The news he has given this morning about people in care homes is tremendously welcome, but people with learning disabilities often feel that they are forgotten, particularly those in supported accommodation. Will he redouble his efforts to ensure that they, too, are able to be reunited with their families ahead of Christmas?
My right hon. Friend is gracious and kind in what he says, and I welcome the WHO’s comments this morning. It has supported the UK approach and rightly commended the MHRA, our independent regulator. It has followed all the same steps that any high-quality regulator would, should and will, but it has followed them rapidly and sometimes in parallel, instead of one after the other. That is how we have got to the position of being the first country in the world to have a vaccine that is clinically authorised; it is because the MHRA has done a brilliant job, working with Pfizer and BioNTech, to make sure that the same safety considerations are looked at but in a way that made the process as fast as is feasibly and safely possible. The WHO has backed that approach. Regulators around the world could take a look at the MHRA, and we should all congratulate it.
My right hon. Friend rightly asks about making sure we vaccinate those with learning disabilities and offer them vaccination at the right point in the prioritisation. I have discussed that important consideration directly with the JCVI, which takes into account the higher mortality of those with any given condition and has done so in the prioritisation that it set out this morning. Age is the single biggest determinant of mortality from coronavirus, which is why age is the predominant factor in the prioritisation, but it is not the only one. That matter has been considered by the JCVI and it is important that we accept and follow the JCVI advice as much as is practicable in the delivery and deployment of this vaccine.
It is, indeed, a fantastic day. I add my thanks and congratulations to everybody who has been involved in getting us to this point, not just in the UK, but worldwide, because this is a great example of global scientific collaboration. May I also pick up on the point about batch testing, which the Secretary of State mentioned on the radio this morning and in his statement? Will he clarify that if we signed up to a mutual recognition agreement with the EU, we would not need to batch test the vaccine again once it arrives in the UK, which could slow down the process, not least because having enough qualified persons to do the batch release testing could be a real challenge? Is he working on a mutual recognition agreement?
We have that mutual recognition agreement in place now. The hon. Lady is right to point to the global scientific work—work between UK scientists and scientists based in the UK, German scientists at BioNTech, the American scientists and the Belgians, who are producing and manufacturing this vaccine. The approach has been about people coming together right around the world, and the UK has put more into the global search for a vaccine in cash terms than any other country; despite our medium size as a nation, we have been the most generous, and I am really proud of that.
It is great news about the vaccine, and, on behalf of the residents of Ashfield and Eastwood, let me say a big thanks to the Health Secretary, the scientists and the pharmaceutical companies.
The small businesses in Ashfield and Eastwood have taken a massive financial hit during lockdown, despite doing their very best to be covid-secure, while supermarkets have recorded record profits. I have received lots of complaints this week from customers and staff at local supermarkets who say that the stores are overcrowded and not covid-safe; this is happening all over the country and is unfair to the small businesses, which have been hit the hardest. While the UK is being vaccinated, in the run-up to Christmas traders in my constituency will do their very best to beat the virus. Will my right hon. Friend therefore please remind the supermarket executives that they have a duty to protect their staff, customers, our NHS and the whole of the UK in order to beat the virus and get our lives back?
Yes, I am very happy from this Dispatch Box to remind the supermarkets of their responsibilities to follow covid-secure guidelines and ensure that they are in place for their customers and staff. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for standing up for the small businesses of Ashfield. It is tough in Ashfield at the moment—I get that. We have the restrictions in place only because they are absolutely necessary. I know that he understands that. He is a strong voice in this Chamber for all the small businesses and residents of Ashfield.
What a joy it was at 7 o’clock this morning to see this news being broken, and to see the Secretary of State as well. I put on the record my thanks to the Secretary of State and all his team for making this happen.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there are still those who are unable to access their flu vaccine? What steps have been taken to ensure that the flu vaccine roll-out is completed before the corona programme begins? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Northern Ireland Assembly on providing vaccines and, more importantly, on the roll-out for our vulnerable and our frontline key workers?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. It has been a big team effort. I echo his thanks to the whole team.
We have a further tranche of flu vaccines ready to go; that is just about to be rolled out. Making sure that flu vaccines are available right across the UK is very important. It is an issue that Robin Swann—my opposite number in the Northern Ireland Administration—and I have worked on extensively. He is incredibly diligent in ensuring that we get the flu vaccines rolled out to Northern Ireland. There is an interaction between the massive flu vaccine roll-out programme, which the NHS does every year but which this year is bigger than ever, and at the same time having to do a covid vaccine roll-out. We have taken that into account in the plans. In fact, before the announcement at 6.30 this morning, I was talking to Robin Swann on the phone, which shows how hard-working he is.
I thank the Secretary of State for all his hard work and congratulate him, the Government and all the scientists on the approval of the vaccine. The Secretary of State will know that Medway and neighbouring Swale, both of which are served by Medway Maritime Hospital in my constituency, are currently recording the first and the second highest covid rates in the country. Parts of Gillingham are recording rates as high as 753 per 100,000 people. I thank the Secretary of State for listening to representations from my local authority, myself and other local MPs on providing military assistance with rapid testing in Medway. The Secretary of State also knows that Medway has some of the highest health inequalities in the country, and that health inequalities are linked to high covid rates. Will he join me in paying tribute to the fantastic work of the hospital and its staff in helping local residents?
Yes, I will. There is a significant problem with the epidemic in Medway and north Kent, which I know my hon. Friend is concerned about. I pay tribute to those working on the frontline at Medway Maritime Hospital, which is one of the most pressured hospitals in the country at the moment, and also thank other parts of Kent and other trusts across Kent for providing mutual aid. We have to get this virus under control in Medway and across north Kent. The way to do that is for everybody to abide by the tier 3 restrictions and to do everything they can to ensure that they do not pass on the disease, and then we can get these cases coming down. At the same time, we are going to inject a huge number of tests into Medway. We are working closely with Medway Council on this, and we will be using the armed forces to help make it happen, because we have to get this virus under control in Medway.
I add my thanks to the scientists and to the volunteers who put their own health at risk so that we could beat this pandemic. My constituency has been under enhanced restrictions for many months now. The community has worked with the councils and others, and we have finally had a 41% drop in infections in the past week, but we need to go further to get out of the restrictions. Part of that is mass testing. Can the Minister clarify my understanding that councils get £14 per head for mass testing but do not get those boots on the ground from the Army—they get logistical advice and support, not physical help? We cannot do mass testing on the cheap, so will the Minister confirm that he will give the resources to councils? Will mass testing roll out before February 2021?
Oh yes—mass testing is rolling out as we speak. My team have been working with Kirklees Council to make sure that the council’s enthusiasm for mass testing is matched by the resources that come its way in terms of the tests themselves, the financial support—£14 per test, as the hon. Lady says—and the logistical support from the armed forces. Kirklees’s plans are very advanced, I pay tribute to its local leadership and look forward to working with them to make it happen.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and our Government on their brilliant work to make sure that we were the first country in the world to have a vaccine approved.
It would be worth the Secretary of State’s repeating the criteria and pecking order for the 800,000 doses. A colleague of mine, Councillor Bentley, always says that people need to hear something at least eight times before they embed it, so will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to repeat it?
Yes, absolutely. We will follow a clinical prioritisation according to need. That starts with those who are resident in care homes and their carers, the over-80s and NHS staff, and then essentially comes down the age range, including those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. Through the experience of the past 10 months, we know, sadly, who is most likely to die of covid, and they are the people we will try to get to first.
This is hugely welcome news. As well as paying tribute to the scientists, I pay tribute to all the teams in our local health boards who are preparing to deliver the vaccine—particularly Fiona Kinghorn and her team at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board—and the armed forces who have been involved in the process. They have done an absolutely incredible job over the past few weeks to be ready for delivery.
The Secretary of State said, crucially, that this is a UK-wide effort; will he give a cast-iron guarantee that not only this tranche of vaccines but future tranches will be available on a completely equitable basis throughout the United Kingdom, so that we can bear down on this virus in every part of our country?
Yes, I can give that assurance. I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the volunteers, whom I should have thanked in response to an earlier question, and also thank in advance everybody in the NHS who is going to be involved in this roll-out. It is going to be a mammoth effort—people are going to be working really hard this winter, when people already work hard during winter in the NHS—and I am sure that the whole House is very grateful to them.
I join the Secretary of State in thanking the scientists who were involved in this major breakthrough for their brilliance and hard work, and I join my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) in paying a personal tribute to the Secretary of State, who has been tenacious, positive and energetic right throughout this. We are the first in the world and a lot of that is down to him.
We need to keep the virus suppressed during the months ahead. One of the problems with test and trace is that quite often people do not disclose all their contacts because they do not want them to have to isolate for two weeks. Sir John Bell, whom I know the Secretary of State admires as much as I do, suggests that if we subject people who are isolated to two tests and they are both negative, they should be released. He thinks that will safely encourage people to share their contacts and suppress the spread of the virus. The Secretary of State has moved heaven and earth on vaccination; will he do this for test and release?
It is a great day for science and a great day to be Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, I would have thought. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said, which was very generous.
On the point about repeat testing instead of isolation for contacts, that is something we are trialling right now, and I hope we can make significant progress on it in the weeks ahead.
Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister reassured me that Government guidance would stop non-essential travel out of areas in tiers 2 or 3 into less-infected areas. However, in fact the guidance says that
“if you live in a tier 2 area, you must continue to follow tier 2 rules when you travel to a tier 1 area.”
That means that someone can travel from higher-infection areas to lower-infection areas, including to Wales. Will the Secretary of State update the guidance to comply with the Prime Minister’s advice and stop non-essential travel from higher-infected to lower-infected areas ahead of the vaccine?
May I place on record my thanks to Kate Bingham and the vaccines taskforce, as well as all the Government Departments that have played their part in this welcome announcement, particularly the part played by my right hon. Friend? Does he agree that as community testing and vaccines are rolled out throughout the winter and into the spring, the need even for localised restrictions will gradually be reduced and that life can begin to return to something closer to normality for my constituents?
Yes. I have good news for the people of Workington and the whole country, which is that suppressing the virus using these restrictions until a vaccine came along has been the strategy all along, and we can just start to see the light at the end of the tunnel getting much brighter because we know we now have a vaccine.
I also welcome this news and thank all the scientists involved in this great breakthrough. When it is my turn to have the vaccine, I will have absolutely no hesitation in doing so. When it comes to turns, can the Secretary of State confirm that community workers—care workers who work in the community going from home to home—will be part of the first assessment of clinical need? Then, after clinical need, will educational need be a factor in keeping our schools open? A school in Southfields has been closed for the last two weeks for lack of teachers being able to teach, so as a next phase, will educational need be a consideration for the roll-out of the vaccine?
Once we have got through the clinical priority, of course there is a debate to be had about the order of priority after that. Between now and then, if we can get the repeat testing of contacts up and running and working across the board, I hope that that will be effective in ensuring that fewer teachers have to isolate because they are contacts as opposed to positive cases.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this vaccine and on his amazing success in preparing us for its speedy roll-out. This is indeed a good news day. The news that hospital staff, care workers and patients will be among the first to receive it will be welcomed in my local hospital and across our care sector. We are keen to make a start. Meanwhile, as the vaccine rolls out to other groups, will my right hon. Friend consider introducing rapid targeted testing at scale in Stockport and across Greater Manchester as we continue to drive down our covid rates and work together to beat the virus?
I echo the congratulations to all involved with the good news about this vaccination. Last week, I asked the Secretary of State to
“publish the modelling his Department holds on the effect of the relaxation of covid-19 restrictions over Christmas on covid-19 transmission rates”.
Yesterday I was told that it was “not possible to answer” that question yet. That seems quite extraordinary. Has the Secretary of State been given an estimate of how many additional deaths are likely to be caused by the loosening of restrictions over Christmas? If he knows the answer, I ask him to tell us now. If he does not know the answer, why would he make such a major decision without any idea of the number of deaths that could result?
We have to make judgments based on what is right, balancing the different considerations we have to take into account, including the yearning that many people have to come together at Christmas, and trying to find a balanced way through. We did that by working with the devolved authorities, and I am glad that we came to a UK-wide approach to Christmas, taking into account all the considerations that were necessary.
May I add my voice of congratulation to my right hon. Friend and to the scientists, the pharmaceutical companies and everybody involved in today’s good news on securing that vaccine? However, he will know of my deep reservations on the severity of the restrictions being placed on my constituents through the new tier system. I am grateful for the time he took to discuss this with me yesterday. A big part of my reluctant decision to vote with the Government last night was the promise of more granularity when it comes to the review on 16 December. Can he therefore confirm that, if the numbers continue to come down, the Buckingham constituency can be considered for tier 1 before Christmas?
I also congratulate the scientific community on their achievements today. But will the Secretary of State look with precision at the York model of delivering contact tracing? It has been a phenomenal story. Precision of contact tracing interviews has reduced the rate right down. They need the information on day one, not after 48 hours, which is being held back, but they also need to ensure that they get payment and support for people isolating. It works, so will the Secretary of State now follow that model?
We will not only follow the model; we will promote it. The link between the local authority and the national system in York has indeed had the effect that the hon. Member rightly describes, and the teamwork between the two has meant that the figures in York—I was looking at them this morning—are coming right down. I pay tribute to everybody in York. It is an example of the national and local systems working together. We have to get the case rates right down all the way across North Yorkshire—indeed, everywhere in Yorkshire—and I am sure that we can.
Yes, of course. GPs, pharmacists, and hospital hubs and vaccination centres are the three routes to getting a vaccine. We will do it through the primary care networks, which are groups of GPs, and we will ensure that it is equitable right across the country. It is so important—not only between England and the devolved nations, but within England—to make the roll-out fair right across the land.
Today’s vaccination announcement certainly is extremely good news. My right hon. Friend has already outlined that there will be equitable provision of the vaccine across the United Kingdom. Will he do the same for community mass testing, and will he outline the logistics involved in getting the vaccines and the community mass testing kits to Wales?
My hon. Friend, as a GP, understands this subject more than most. We are working with the Welsh Administration to try to get community testing throughout Wales. We are working in Merthyr Tydfil right now to get the case rates down there. I am very happy to work with him, the Welsh Administration and local councils to ensure that we get the case rates down wherever we can.
As we await the welcome roll-out of a vaccine, test and trace remains vital. In Scotland, over 90% of cases and contacts have been reached, whereas England, with its reliance on Serco, has seen barely 60% of contacts reached—far lower than is needed to meaningfully limit the spread of covid. Will the Secretary of State advise us what clauses are in the contracts regarding this failure to deliver, and what is he going to do about it?
I gently advise the hon. Member and other Scottish National party Members not to try to make this comparison. I looked into this matter in some detail when somebody else raised it. It turns out that the figures are only comparable if one strips out finding contacts in places where it is easy to get the contacts, such as care homes, because everybody who lives in them can easily be accounted for. Comparing apples and pears like this is not sensible and it is not right. Trying to drive a wedge between the public and private element of the system’s provision—which, by the way, Scotland also has—is a mistake.
I, too, thank everyone involved in today’s good news from North Devon. My right hon. Friend will know that the Nightingale in Exeter has now opened, but he will also know that we are seeing a large number of NHS staff absences across Devon. Can he assure me that the Government are doing everything they can to keep staff safe, and to ensure that we have enough staff to keep all hospitals in Devon running as they should?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this important issue. I am glad to say that we have more staff working in the NHS in Devon over the last year and we have increased the number of nurses nationally by over 14,000, but there are also those absent because of covid. I hope that regular testing will help to bring that number down; and then, of course, there is the vaccine, which I hope will solve this problem once and for all.
The Secretary of State will know that there was much disappointment in Devon that we were put in tier 2, although our rates are only 80 per 100,000 and coming down. Can he spell out exactly what has to happen in Devon over the next two weeks for us to move into tier 1? If the phenomenal success of the York modelling, which virtually eradicated covid in York, is for the reasons that he suggests, why is that not being done elsewhere?
We are very happy to work with Devon County Council if it wants to come forward for that sort of model. We are constantly learning from around the country. The local-national partnerships often bring lessons, because people have chosen to do things slightly differently in a local area, and we can all learn from that. As for Devon coming into tier 1, Devon does have lower rates than many places, but it is not the lowest area in tier 2, as that honour belongs to my own county of Suffolk. There are elevated numbers of cases in some parts of Devon. What I urge everyone in Devon to do to get into tier 1 is to abide by the tier 2 rules and, more than that, to take personal responsibility to do all they can to reduce the spread of the virus.
I say a big well done to everybody involved with this triumph. I share the Secretary of State’s concern over vaccine hesitancy, and he is right to say that everyone in this House has a duty to try to dispel it. Does he agree that, had this House not taken the decision on 16 October to empower the nimble MHRA and leave regulation instead to the European Medicines Agency until 31 December, he would not be in this happy position today?
Yes, I am very glad that we changed the law to allow the MHRA to make this authorisation on UK terms. This House voted unanimously to do that—well, we did not even have a vote as it went through without one. I am really glad that we were able to do that. I want to thank my right hon. Friend for his support and encouragement throughout this period. It has been a very, very long year as Health Secretary and I really appreciate his support.
The Health Secretary spoke about learning lessons and continuing to improve the system. My partner’s daughter is currently self-isolating because someone in her class at school has got coronavirus. She comes home and lives with her sister who is still expected to go to school. Surely a world-class testing system would be testing everyone in the bubble of those who had been sent home so that immediate family could be identified as having the virus or not, and could take appropriate action. Is there any more that can be done to improve this so that people such as my partner and many other parents at Holymoorside school will be able to take the necessary steps?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that Lincoln has a high student population, something of which I am very proud, and that our two universities are highly regarded. Quite a number of constituents have contacted me regarding the potential increase in cases when students return in January. What steps is he taking to support universities with this and what further steps can we take to support students who have to isolate as, often, they are far away from loved ones who can support them with shopping and so on and, as a Government we must do all we can to ensure that education continues as normal?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Just as when students go home for Christmas, we are able to use the massive testing capacity that we have built up to ensure that they do so safely, so we propose to use testing to allow students to return safely. It is rather like the previous answer I just gave about being able to use testing instead of isolation in schools. I say gently to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) who, as he sat down, muttered about this: it is far better to work together, and it is only because of the massive testing capacity that has been built up through the actions of this Government that this is possible. We have the biggest testing capacity in Europe and we can use it for keeping people safe in schools and for allowing people to go safely to and from universities. This is exactly the sort of empowerment that we now have as a result of the huge testing programme that we have built.
Last week we celebrated Carers Rights Day, and today they are not included on the priority list issued by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. They do a huge job in looking after some of our most vulnerable people. Will the Health Secretary look again at that decision?
I am very happy to ensure that the JCVI takes all the appropriate considerations into account. However, it is not my decision to look at again. My decision is that we should follow the clinical advice. I think we should respect the JCVI, which is hugely expert in the clinical advice it gives.
It is fantastic news about the vaccine, but we cannot be complacent. The Kirklees director of public health briefed me and other local MPs last night that Kirklees needs to be in tier 3 right now. We were in the top five councils for covid cases, but good local action, combined with the national lockdown, has helped to reduce cases by 41%. Can the Health Secretary confirm that he will use localised data at the first review of the tiers on 16 December so that, if we continue that progress, we might be able to come out of tier 3? In the meantime, will he speak again to the Chancellor to see what extra financial support we can give to our pubs, restaurants and cafés at this challenging time?
Yes. Of course, the Prime Minister announced extra funding for wet pubs yesterday. I am very happy to have a further discussion on that matter, but I also pay tribute to Kirklees, the people who live in Kirklees and my hon. Friend’s constituents, because it has been tough and it has been a long time. These measures have been in place for longer than almost anywhere else in the country, and the rates are now really coming down. Everybody should be very grateful for that.
The Secretary of State talks a lot about partnership at local level. Two weeks ago, his Department contacted the local public health directors and asked them to draw up plans for care home testing. Last week, his Department sent out a letter directly to care homes, bypassing those local directors of public health, to introduce testing in those care homes. Why was the approach changed? How will the data from that testing in local care homes be fed through to local directors of public health to do local tracing?
Will the Health Secretary and his colleagues accept my congratulations on making sure the UK is one of the first countries in the world to have a deployable vaccine? Does he agree that businesses and their employees in the UK pharmaceutical sector, which invests over £4 billion a year of private risk capital, are heroes every bit as much as our wonderful NHS employees on the frontline?
Absolutely, and my hon. Friend gives the lie to this idea that we should somehow split public and private. I want to pay tribute, on behalf of all those in the House who believe in private enterprise, to everybody: the major global pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca, the small entrepreneurial start-ups such as BioNTech and all those who have come to the aid of the nation. If they do it and make a profit, if they do that to save lives, that is fine by me.
Advent always starts with the prospect of good news, so this is a really good Advent. [Interruption.] Says the former vicar. Yes, quite.
Can I add one element to this issue of the prioritisation of vaccination? Covid has savagely exposed the health inequalities across the whole country. The poorest communities have suffered most, and the poorest communities often have the fewest health services and the least additional capacity to be able to deliver vaccination. As part of the mix, can we make sure that equality, real equity, across the whole country means that the poorest communities may need additional support?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman raises a point that is important for the vaccination programme but also important thereafter, because if levelling up means anything, it means trying to level up health and make sure that the health inequalities of which he speaks are addressed.
Everyone involved in delivering this great news is to be congratulated, including the Secretary of State. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that provided that we receive the first doses of the vaccine as soon as we are expecting them in Scotland, we can start vaccinating people on Tuesday next week. Will the Secretary of State join me in applauding all at NHS Scotland who are going to make this possible?
Yes, I absolutely will. Our goal and our aim, and the commitment and agreement between all four nations of the United Kingdom, is that we will all start vaccination at the same time, fairly, across the four nations. That will happen early next week. When the announcement was made at 7 am, the one remaining regulatory hurdle was the batch testing, and that has now been completed, so we are on track to deliver on that commitment, which will be delivered through the NHS in all four corners of our land. We are working closely together. I spoke to my opposite number in Scotland early this morning to make sure that we are as co-ordinated as possible. This UK-purchased vaccine being delivered by NHS Scotland is a really good example of the power of this country when we all work together.
The first country in the world to have a vaccine, and a world-class testing programme—what a phenomenal achievement. I thank my right hon. Friend and all the scientists and clinicians who have made today a reality. I am pleased that before Christmas we should have vaccine centres established in Oakham and in Melton Mowbray in my constituency. Will he please join me in extending his thanks to my local councils, our clinicians and residents for their enormously hard work to get ready to bring this vaccine to my communities?
Yes, I absolutely will. I pay tribute to their work on preparing for the vaccine roll-out, and also their work in keeping the virus under control, which is such an important task, is so difficult, and has consumed so much effort this year, yet there is still more work to be done over this winter to get the vaccine rolled out.
Two injections per person for everyone in the country is going to take an awful long time. The Prime Minister was hoping that it would be done by Easter. Does the Health Secretary share that timetable or will he publish another one? Is he planning on making this vaccine available again next year, since we do not know how long immunity lasts, and covid is likely to be endemic and with us for some time to come?
The hon. Lady asks two incredibly important questions, the first of which the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) asked and I did not answer, for which I apologise. The speed at which we can continue this roll-out will be determined by the speed at which Pfizer can manufacture and whether the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, of which we have 100 million doses on order, is approved by the MHRA. I am afraid that I cannot answer the hon. Lady’s question on the timetable, or indeed the hon. Gentleman’s, because it is dependent on the approval of AstraZeneca and the manufacturing process of the Pfizer vaccine.
On the hon. Lady’s second question, I have completely forgotten what it was. [Hon. Members: “Next year.”] Next year, yes, and whether this vaccine is only short-term. One of the reasons we have 357 million doses from seven different vaccines is to be able to vaccinate with further doses if that is needed in due course, whether that is through re-procurement of one of the existing vaccines or by switching to a different vaccine if that is clinically appropriate. That is absolutely part of the potential future plans that we have under consideration, but it is too early to know the answer to that question as well.
It is wonderful news on the vaccine—many congratulations to all involved, including the Secretary of State. He will concede that it will be some months before restrictions can be lifted. North Yorkshire is the largest county in England by miles—it takes three hours to drive from one side of it to the other—and the variation in infection rates is considerable across the region. Will he consider, when he moves tiers around in two weeks’ time, moving one of the seven districts of North Yorkshire with low infection rates into tier 1?
As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we do look at the human geography and how the epidemiology shows the spread of the virus is occurring across the country, especially, but not limited to, the big rural counties. We have to be slightly careful in North Yorkshire. One of the challenged areas is Scarborough, where the case rates are elevated. I appreciate that that is a long way from my hon. Friend’s patch. We do look at it at that granular level and make decisions on that basis, but the decision to put the whole of North Yorkshire into tier 2 was taken looking at each part of North Yorkshire on its merits.
Dr de Gruchy, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, has said:
“it is completely incomprehensible that the Government is not increasing the public health grant”
to local authorities next year. She spoke of the importance of
“learning the lessons of how existing health inequalities have driven and exacerbated the impact of COVID-19”,
as well as addressing
“the socio-economic determinants of health”
and giving public health teams the resources they need both to continue the fight against covid-19 and for the longer term. Will the Secretary of State pay heed to that message, and will he call on the Chancellor to give local public health teams the funding they need?
We are increasing the public health grant next year. Also, the public health grant is but one part of the massive overall investment in public health that we have made this year and will, of course, have to continue to make next year as we get the virus under control.
The news this morning about the vaccines gives my constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden light at the end of a very dark tunnel. The announcement on care homes is genuinely brilliant news and something I have pushed for, as the Secretary of State will know, both in and out of this Chamber. As has been mentioned, mass testing is also a vital part in our fight against coronavirus. Will the Secretary of State confirm when it will be rolled out in tier 3 areas such as Hyndburn and Haslingden, so we can continue to get our rate down and get our brilliant hospitality sector up again?
My hon. Friend is right. The candle of hope is burning brighter today. On the mass testing she is so enthusiastic about, I can tell her that this morning when I asked my officials to ensure that the community testing programme that is being developed for Hyndburn is advanced as quickly as possible, they told me that they had been told of the need for it by so many people and that so many people had been lobbied by her, that it was already in hand. I suppose that that goes to show just how vociferous my hon. Friend is in fighting for the people of Hyndburn.