The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
I thank the noble Baroness for raising these issues. The first issue, that of anti-vaxxers, is really important. In a free society we always have to get the balance right between freedom of speech, making sure that people are free to go about their daily work, and making sure that those who want the vaccine get it as soon as possible. The Government are aware of this and are looking at it, but it is really important that we get the right balance. Whatever we think of the anti-vaxxers’ message, they have a right to say it, but we have to make sure that it does not impinge on the liberty of others to get their vaccine, especially since we are encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated.
I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to the Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam. He appears on our daily omicron calls and I have had a number of conversations with him, and I know that there is incredible respect for JVT across the country. Indeed, I know that a number of people tuned in to his Christmas lectures on the virus; as the noble Baroness says, they were an excellent explanation of the virus and how to tackle it.
As for how we reach local communities, particularly those communities that have not come forward, I have had a number of conversations with noble Lords and Baronesses with their own experience of working with local communities in a bottom-up way. We have seen a number of local activities; indeed, my local masjid, or mosque, has a walk-in vaccination centre, and we have seen that in other faith places. A number of faith-based and interfaith networks have worked closely with the local community, because often some communities do not have the trust in authority that they have in priests, vicars, bishops—if I may say so—imams, et cetera. That is really important. We have also recorded promotional films in a number of languages, including Punjabi and Urdu in Birmingham, and got some celebrities to come up. I know I have gone on too long but I am very excited about what we are doing.