Covid-19 Vaccination Roll-out

Craig Williams Excerpts
David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (in the Chair)
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Colleagues, there are a number of changes. First, you will have noticed that there is a statement in the House, so the Minister and shadow spokesman are still detained there. I am sure that colleagues will be kind to the two Members standing in their place, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), but everyone should bear in mind that they did not expect to be in that position. Furthermore, a number of Members who are on the call list have disappeared and not come back, and are not in the Chamber, so the order in which I call Members will be Opposition, Government, Opposition. I shall try to indicate the order to you. I call Craig Williams.

Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
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It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and a great delight to be called earlier than I expected. I welcome the tone in which the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) introduced the petition. She has given a great voice to both petitions. I echo the statement that this is a very worthy and timely debate—anybody who has been filling her inbox to say the contrary is wrong.

There is an undertone of great political agreement about the JCVI’s recommendations, because we have Governments of different colours across the United Kingdom. We have a Labour and Liberal Democrat Government in Wales—the Education Minister is of the Liberal persuasion, but they are primarily a Labour Government. We have a Conservative Government in Westminster, and we have a Scottish National party Government in Scotland. Broadly, however, the JCVI has stacked up in its entirety in its recommendations.

I accept the spirit of the petitions and the recommendation for frontline workers and teachers to have early vaccinations. I had my county chair of the National Farmers Union on the phone this morning, and he was pleading for farmers and people working in food processing and in important sectors supplying food—not just to our hospitals, but to our entire country—to receive special treatment as the vaccinations are rolled out. There is a huge lobby around this issue. I cannot think of a better call-up in short order than the Minister, and I am expecting an excellent reply, but we really need a vaccination programme that speeds up at pace across the whole United Kingdom. I will make a number of asks in my short contribution—I know a lot of Members wish to speak.

Although I broadly support the intent of the petitions, I stand squarely behind the recommendations made thus far by the JCVI. We are in the right phasing. The hon. Member for Gower was right to look at opening up the next round of vaccinations, but my plea is to get vaccinating as quickly as possible. We have seen different stages of planning across the United Kingdom. As a Welsh Member, I know we are at a different stage in Wales from the one in England. We also see a different phase of the roll-out in Scotland. My plea is to get vaccinating the groups identified by the JCVI as quickly as possible, and then to vaccinate the wider population. I can see the hon. Lady gearing up—I will certainly give way if she wants, knowing my Welsh colleague well.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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I thank the hon. Member for giving way. If schools will be returning to normal practice after half-term in February—that is where we are now, practically across the United Kingdom—does he agree that there is real urgency to know what is going to be different this time round? What will be put in place this time round? That is why there is an urgent need to revisit the vaccination programme.

Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams
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As the father of an eight-year-old and a four-year-old starting their education, I know home-schooling presents a challenge. I dare say that nobody present wants the schools reopened more quickly than I do, but let us be clear that we need to vaccinate in this country to keep deaths down. Of course education is of primary importance, and people would expect a father of young children to echo what is being said up and down the country, but the JCVI has made it clear that the first phases will tackle the mortality rate. It has to be the priority of Members in this Chamber and our Governments across the United Kingdom to keep the mortality rate as low as possible.

There are a couple of things that I will ask the Minister to focus on. I would like information published about how many vaccines are being delivered to the devolved Administrations, so that we can hold their feet to the fire on their delivery. I want to see how many vaccines are being supplied. We can then evaluate roll-out processes in the light of day, rather than operate as we are doing now.

I would like further consideration of what can be done for frontline first responders and teachers in future roll-outs. How do they feature? My key ask, however, is that we be as transparent as possible with the vaccine roll-out. We need communication not just with our teachers and first responders, but across the country, to make it clear when people can expect vaccinations and when the schools will fully reopen, so that we can say goodbye to Zoom—especially those of us with a four-year-old. When can people expect their local vaccine centres, GPs, or, I hope and pray eventually in Wales, community pharmacists to get involved in the frontline delivery of vaccines?

My plea today is that we follow the clear guidance from the JCVI and the ambition to keep mortality rates as low as possible, but that we are transparent with our teachers and our constituents to make sure that they see this roll out at speed.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is an honour to participate in a debate under your chairing, Sir David. It is an extremely important and timely debate, and I thank all the people who signed the two petitions that brought it forward.

For almost a year, covid-19 has impacted all our lives in ways we could never have expected or imagined. Young people have missed vital time in the classroom, businesses have been forced to close, families have been kept apart and, shockingly, more than 80,000 lives have now been lost. The correspondence I receive every day from constituents represents their vast and varied concerns. The common thread is an overwhelming sense of fatigue and the desperate wish for the country to get back to normal.

The vaccine is our way out, our golden ticket to some sense of normality. I put on record my thanks to all those who have worked to make it possible. It should amaze us all that in less than 10 months humans have been able to learn about the virus, develop a vaccine to combat it, test it, conduct three phases of trials and get it approved. That could not have been done without enormous sacrifice, talent and a level of international collaboration that should inspire us all and be applied to a range of areas. Because of that hard work, we can now see light at the end of the tunnel.

The pandemic has demanded huge sacrifices from people all over the world in the name of beating the virus. Now that we have a vaccine, it is incumbent on the Government to hold to their end of the bargain and ensure that the roll-out is done correctly. The stakes are painfully clear. If we can get a vaccine for people most at risk, in the fastest amount of time, we will be able to save countless lives.

That is why, alongside the Daily Mirror and the TUC, my party has started the Let’s Vaccinate Britain campaign. We are working with trade unions to demand that employers give workers paid time off to get vaccinated. We are encouraging people to sign up to the NHS to volunteer and to speak to their friends, neighbours and relatives about the importance of getting vaccinated. I call on everyone listening to the debate to get involved in that campaign.

Many of my constituents and others in Leeds are already contributing to the national effort. Fittingly, Leeds’s first covid vaccine was given Sylvia Harris, an 80-year-old ward housekeeper who has worked for the NHS since she was 26, but has had to shield at home since March last year. Soon, she will finally be able to return to what she does best—caring for her patients. I thank Leeds United football club for offering its stadium, Elland Road, to be a vaccination centre, and all those across Leeds who are devoting time and energy to making the vaccine administration possible.

We need a huge national effort to get this country vaccinated, starting with key workers and those most vulnerable to the virus. That means conducting round-the-clock vaccinations, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It makes perfect sense for key workers to be vaccinated overnight, allowing daytime vaccinations for the age priority groups.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has said that there is no public appetite for vaccinations 24 hours a day. I do not believe that is correct. Key workers, and people who want the vaccine in order to get back to normal, will take it on whatever day or night is offered to them. Older age groups might not be prepared to have the vaccine during the night, so maybe the strategy is to vaccinate the key workers in the nocturnal hours and the older age groups in the daytime hours. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] There is agreement about that across the House.

As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) said, politicians across the House have been keen to emphasise the importance of getting children back into school. I declare an interest, as I have a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old, and it is sometimes difficult to motivate them for home learning. I am sure we all know that feeling. We cannot get them back in school until it is safe. Schools cannot operate in a socially distanced way, without access to proper personal protective equipment. Vaccination is the only way we can ensure staff are protected.

It is not just teachers who need to be added to the priority groups. I submitted a written question last week on hospices. The Minister who has just finished in the Chamber, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), can listen to this debate now and to what I have to say. He responded by saying that the JCVI based its advice on the data it reviewed from a number of sources, including the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England. For the purposes of covid-19 vaccine prioritisation, the definition of care homes is all care home premises licensed and registered with the Care Quality Commission. This definition does not include hospices. I want to ask the Minister on duty, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), and the Minister who is hopefully watching, why hospices should not be added, because they are just as important as other care settings.

I also want to make a plea for early years. Why is early years treated differently from teachers or other settings? They should not be. Early years settings are suffering at the moment because they are open, and the financial pressures are immense because of the different pressures on their time. Today the leaders of Leeds City Council wrote to the Minister for Children and Families and copied in the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment. Councillors Blake and Venner wrote, “We are requesting that early years staff, to include childminder staff working in group settings and wraparound care, are prioritised for the covid-19 vaccine. Early years providers support a large number of children, provide personal care and do not wear PPE. It is of course vital that the NHS and care home workers as well as other priority groups more vulnerable to the virus receive the vaccine first. But we are asking that early years staff form an additional priority group after this.” That is another group that can be vaccinated in the evening or at night, putting our youngest away from harm in those settings.

I will conclude by asking about transparency on data, which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire gently touched upon. We have a lot of data around testing. We know how many tests are being conducted in each local authority area. We know where the roll-out is and where the centres are. If we can have that level of data for testing, why can we not have it for vaccinations? I am sure that other Members, like me, look on the Worldometer website, which has started recording vaccination data as well as testing data, cases, mortality and so on. Soon there will be global comparisons around vaccinations and we will be able to see where the UK stands. We can see that now, but we need to be able to dig right down to see how many vaccines have been supplied to each primary care network, how many centres there are, and how many first and second vaccines have been given. That will start to give the public confidence that there is not a postcode lottery, that roll-outs are happening and that centres are open. That will encourage more people to come forward, not just to receive the vaccine but to support the roll-out.

Data and public confidence are really important. I hope that the duty Minister, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, will take that away and provide us with that data. I asked the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon about that in a private call just before Christmas. He said he would get back to me. Now that I have raised it in this Chamber, I hope that he will.