Debates between Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi during the 2019 Parliament

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(2 days, 8 hours ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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The right hon. Gentleman asks who is included in the 3% pay rise recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body. They are the 1 million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics, consultants and, of course, salaried GPs. The junior doctors he mentions have a separate, multi-year pay rise over three years, amounting to 8%.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the capacity for testing. I looked at that before coming to the House, and the capacity currently for PCR tests is not 600,000 but 640,000 a day, according to the latest data that I looked at. He asks about schools. There will be two supervised tests for schools. He knows that in Monday’s statement we announced our acceptance of the JCVI guidelines on vaccinating vulnerable children, vaccinating children who live with vulnerable adults, and vaccinating those who are 17 but within three months of their 18th birthday. The JCVI will keep under review the vaccination of healthy children as more data becomes available from countries such as the United States of America and Israel.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a question around the covid vaccination pass and nightclubs, other crowded unstructured indoor settings such as music venues, large unstructured outdoor events such as business events and festivals, and very large structured events, such as business events, music and spectator sport events. They are the ones that we are most concerned about. We have seen other countries, whether it is Holland or Italy, opening nightclubs and having to reverse that decision rapidly. What we are attempting to do, and the reason we have the covid vaccination pass in place, is to work with industry while we give people over the age of 18 the chance to become double-vaccinated. It would be hugely unfair to bring in that policy immediately. Giving people until the end of September is the right thing to do, while at the same time allowing businesses to open safely, using the app now—because the app went live and the industry is very much engaging with it.

There are no easy decisions on anything to do with this virus. That is the one thing we have learned. The most effective tool we have against the virus is, of course, the vaccine programme, followed by the tool of self-isolation. If we want to get back to normal and get our lives back, we need to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic—from pandemic to manageable menace—as quickly and as safely as possible. If we release all restrictions now, including self-isolation, which I am sure a number of colleagues will ask about today, we risk the number of infections, which the shadow Secretary of State worries about as I do, rising rapidly. That could risk the transition of this virus.

We are working flat out with industry. I commend companies such as Lidl, which knows it is under pressure but will work through it with us. We will allow critical, frontline and key workers and health and social care workers to get back to work if they take a negative test, as I announced on Monday. By 16 August, everyone who is double-vaccinated will be able to do that.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con)
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May I start by wishing you and your family a ping-free summer, Mr Speaker? Thank you for upholding the values of this House over the past few months.

The Minister of State will have heard of YouGov, which said this week that a tenth of the people who had the NHS covid app have deleted it, and that a further fifth are considering doing so. Given that he made his living from listening to public opinion, does he not think it is time for the Government to listen to public opinion and immediately scrap the 10-day isolation requirement for double-jabbed people who are pinged, in favour of having to isolate until they take a negative PCR test? Otherwise we risk losing social consent for this very important weapon against the virus.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would briefly like to ask you about the issue we were not able to ask Ministers about in the House yesterday, which is the decision on NHS pay. I support the decision to accept the pay review body’s recommendations. It is the right thing to do, but it costs £1.5 billion. Can the Minister confirm it will not be paid for by cuts to other parts of the NHS budget? If it is going to be funded through a new national insurance rise for health and social care, as The Times says today, will he confirm that the funding for social care will be ring-fenced, so that we do not have a situation in which social care, once again, loses out because of pressures in the NHS?

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi
Monday 19th July 2021

(5 days, 8 hours ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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The hon. Gentleman raises a number of important questions. Pfizer supply remains consistent, and we have every confidence that the manufacturer will continue to deliver, as it has done, according to the delivery schedules. Being able to continue to vaccinate the over-18s with their first dose, and of course their second dose by the end of September is not a question of supply. Equally, as we did a few hours ago, jointly with Minister Humza Yousaf and the Ministers from Northern Ireland and Wales, we can take a decision that we will all follow JCVI advice on vaccinating vulnerable children and those who live with vulnerable adults, as I described in my statement.

On our capability in the UK to manage this pandemic, I hope, with the booster campaign in September, to transition from pandemic status to endemic status. With the wall of vaccinated adults—I think 87.9% have had a first dose in the United Kingdom, and 68% of all adults have had two doses—it is the right precautionary pragmatic decision to transition, and return our country to as normal a place as possible. We will get those businesses that were almost first in and now last out of the pandemic, back and up and running.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con)
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Thanks to the efforts of the Minister we have one of the best vaccine programmes in the world, so I hope he does not mind me expressing two concerns about our current strategy. First, if we are to introduce covid vaccine passports for nightclubs by the end of September, which I support, why are we waiting until then, and giving more weight to the concerns of people who want to go to nightclubs than to the additional extra cases that waiting two months is likely to cause, at a time when that growth of new cases is such a concern?

Secondly, on the NHS app, people who have been double jabbed know that if they are pinged they are less likely to have the disease. They are therefore starting to ignore the request to self-isolate, and in some cases to delete the app. Before we lose social consent, should we not replace the requirement to isolate for 10 days with a requirement for someone to isolate until they have had a negative PCR test, thus using that testing capacity that the Minister talked about to keep our national show on the road?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his two excellent questions—rather than one—which I shall try to address in reverse. He will have heard the announcement in my statement about the NHS app and frontline social care or healthcare staff, as well as critical workers. Part of the reason we want to do that is that we want to maintain the ability of that workforce to do what it does best. As my right hon. Friend rightly outlined, they will do that with a negative PCR test and seven days of lateral flow testing. The clear clinical advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the expert team is that 16 August will be the most appropriate time to do that, for the rest of the economy as well. As we open up—we are now at step 4—and are getting more people double jabbed and protected further, especially younger parents, teachers and other professions, this is the appropriate measure to take on 16 August.

On the issue that my right hon. Friend raises on nightclubs, by the end of September 18-year-olds will have received their second dose. We will work with the industry to ensure that we get the covid pass right—now and in September—while we collate the evidence.

Covid-19

Debate between Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for, I hope, his equally supportive comments when it comes to supporting his constituents and others around the country—in Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees and Leicester, his own patch, as well as Hounslow and north Tyneside.

I spoke to the M10 metro Mayors this morning, and the one thing I would urge is that we all work together and take the politics out of this. Our constituents deserve that. Essentially, as I said in my opening statement, we are asking people in the affected areas to be cautious and careful. The right hon. Gentleman asked about visiting family: people should meet outside rather than inside, where possible. Meeting indoors is still allowed, in a group of six or as two households, but meeting outdoors is safer. People should meet 2 metres apart from those they do not live with unless they have formed a support bubble; that obviously includes friends and family they do not live with. So yes, people can visit family in half-term if they follow social distancing guidelines. The guidelines include specific sections on meeting friends and family. Avoid travelling in and out of the affected areas, as the Prime Minister said on 14 May, unless it is essential—for work purposes, for example.

The whole principle is that we need to work together. The right hon. Gentleman has a responsibility, as do I and the metro Mayors, to communicate to our residents and constituents that this is a time to be vigilant and careful. We are putting more surge testing and turbocharging vaccinations in those areas, to make sure that we do the work with local directors of public health. I hope he will agree that we have had that plan in place and seen it operate in Bolton and Blackburn; we will see it operate in his constituency and other parts of the country as well.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con)
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I congratulate the Minister on the outstanding roll-out of the vaccine programme, which is a source of enormous pride to all of us, on all sides of the House. As we emerge from lockdown, we all want it to be a permanent change. For most families, the biggest priority is to make sure that schools remain open, even if we find that new variants arrive in the UK in the course of the autumn. We know that children do not tend to get bad symptoms, but they can spread the virus, so is it time to look at vaccinating the over-12s, as they are doing in the United States? Is it time to look at whether we can use some of the US Food and Drug Administration analysis to speed up that decision-making process, so that by the time children come back in the autumn, schools are protected and we can be confident that they will be able to stay open?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question. He is absolutely right to focus on the protection of children but also of families and their community. That clinical decision has not been taken in the United Kingdom. He will be aware that, as well as the US regulator, the Canadian regulator has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds. Operationally, we will be ready, but ultimately the decision has to be a clinical one and our regulator will have to be satisfied that the vaccines are extremely safe. When you are vaccinating children, essentially, you are offering some protection to them—children can be infected with covid and there is some evidence of long covid among children—but on the whole it is to protect their families and to protect against transmission in communities. Vaccines have to be incredibly safe before we administer them to children, but we have the infrastructure in place to be able to do that, as and when the regulatory and clinical decision is made.

Covid-19 Vaccine Update

Debate between Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi
Thursday 4th February 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his constructive way of engaging with the vaccination deployment programme. On trials, we have two running currently, both with Public Health England. The Vivaldi trial is testing residents of care homes, who were in category 1 of the JCVI categories. The second is Siren, which is testing frontline health workers, who are in category 2. As Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, has said, we will know the infection and transmission data from those trials in the next few weeks. Of course, the Oxford data is very promising—it needs to be peer reviewed—but those trials will also capture the Oxford vaccine, because obviously that came on site in January.

On the priority list, the JCVI looked very closely at both black, Asian and minority ethnic and, of course, other considerations, including by profession, and came down clearly on the side of age as the deciding factor in people’s risk of dying from covid. This is a race against death, hence the nine categories, which we are going through, and we will continue to do so. A number of professions will be captured in those categories. Of course, those with extremely severe illness will be captured in the category for the severely extremely vulnerable, and others will be captured in further categories down the phase 1 list.

I certainly think it would be wrong to change the JCVI recommendation, because categories 1 to 9 account for 99% of mortality. When we get into phase 2, we would welcome a debate and, of course, will ask the JCVI about including professions such as teachers, shop workers and police officers, who through their work come into contact with much greater volumes of the virus than others do, and it will advise us accordingly.

On BAME and ethnicity, the NHS now collects such data, and we are publishing it. We are doing an enormous amount of work not only across Government, but with the NHS, to ensure that we bring in local government so that we can begin to share data. I would welcome us working much closer with local government and the NHS so that we can identify, to the individual level, the people we need to protect as soon as possible.

I put it on the record that I want clinical commissioning groups to share data with MPs. Several colleagues—[Interruption.] Including you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I can see you nodding away vigorously. CCGs should and must engage with local politicians, because MPs get a lot of emails and telephone calls from concerned constituents in the top four most vulnerable categories. Of course, the NHS has plans to publish CCG-level data very soon.

As for care home staff, we had a fantastic response through the care home vaccination programme, which is category 1, and we continue to do more with staff to encourage them to be vaccinated, because we make four visits into care homes. Visit one is for the first dose, visit two is to try to vaccinate those who may have been infected the first time, because people cannot be vaccinated until after 28 days, visit three will be for second doses, and so on. We are getting greater traction with care home staff, but the hon. Gentleman is right to mention that. There is a big focus on helping them to go to hospital hubs and, of course, their primary care networks.

On the second dose, everyone who has had a first dose of Pfizer will get a second dose of Pfizer within that 12-week dosing period. That will begin in March in the usual way that the NHS does vaccinations. Everyone who has had a first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca will get a second dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca within 12 weeks as well.

The hg is right to ask about people wanting the option of going either to a national vaccination centre or to the PCN. If right hon. and hon. Members have particular cases, please point them to us and we will do everything we can to ensure that that is facilitated.

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted HIV clinics. I will take that matter away and see whether there is a workaround for those who want to have that information remain private from their GP. We will see what we can do.

This is World Cancer Day, and there is now real excitement in the scientific community in the UK about the messenger RNA vaccine, because people can begin to think about vaccines for cancers as well. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point about those who care for the clinically extremely vulnerable, and we want to ensure that we deliver the JCVI phase 1 and then very quickly reach the rest of the population.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con) [V]
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I congratulate the Minister on his leadership of the vaccine roll-out programme, which really is one of the most impressive anywhere in the world. Indeed, I also commend the Health Secretary for the foundations that he laid last year.

Now that we know that mutations and variants are the name of the game, I want to ask the Minister about a worst-case scenario: a variant that is wholly immune to the vaccines that we are currently distributing. How possible is it that we could see that in the next few months in the UK? Has the Manaus variant, which people are particularly worried about, arrived here from Brazil? If we did see such a variant, what is the timescale not just to develop a new vaccine that works against it, but to manufacture it and get it approved by regulators so that it is ready to go?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful to the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee for his question, and he is absolutely right. The manufacturers are already working on variants to their vaccine to take into account the mutation of the virus. Viruses will mutate to survive and this virus is no different. There are about 4,000 mutations now around the world, some more concerning than others. We have, in the United Kingdom, a genome sequencing industry that is a world leader—about 50%, or just under, of the sequencing has taken place in the United Kingdom. Not only are we working with the current manufacturers—Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna —that have been approved, but we are also looking at how we can make sure that we make the most of the new messenger RNA technology, which allows the rapid development of vaccine variants that will then deal with the virus variants as rapidly as possible. When I spoke to the Science and Technology Committee a few weeks ago, I said that we were planning to have in place the ability to go from the moment that we can sequence a variant that we are really concerned about to the moment that we can have a vaccine ready in between 30 to 40 days, with then, of course, the manufacturing time.

We have invested in Oxfordshire, in the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, and in the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Braintree—£127 million there and just shy of £100 million in Oxfordshire—to be ready to manufacture any vaccine that we would need. The Prime Minister, of course, also visited those making what I refer to as our seventh vaccine, the Valneva vaccine. That is a whole inactivated virus, so it does not just work on the spikes in the way that the two current vaccines that we are deploying work. It works on the whole of the virus, which is much more likely to capture any mutations from the spikes and therefore be incredibly effective. We have invested in that production facility in Scotland so that we can have that vaccine as a future-proofing of annual vaccination strategies or a booster in the autumn, if necessary.

Covid-19: Vaccinations

Debate between Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi
Monday 11th January 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con) [V]
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I congratulate the Minister on getting this programme off to a flying start: to vaccinate 2 million people, including a third of over-80s, six weeks after the first dose was approved is an extraordinary achievement unmatched by any similar country. May I ask him about the speed of the roll-out? Many people want teachers to be jabbed as quickly as possible, but is it the case that all those in groups 1 to 4 will need their second jabs before we can make real inroads into other key groups? And will he publish the breakdown of numbers vaccinated not just by region but by local authority area, because a lot of people would like to know just how many people have been vaccinated in their local area?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s compliment and this is only the start. I hope that, as we progress in the weeks and months to come, the focus and the rate of output will continue to rise.

My right hon. Friend raises an important point around the critical workforce for the economy, like teachers. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation looked at all these issues and has come out very clearly in favour of us vaccinating the nine cohorts that are most vulnerable to dying from covid-19, hence why that is absolutely our focus.

We are absolutely committed to making sure that people get two doses, so if they have received their Pfizer first dose, they will get their Pfizer second dose within 12 weeks of the first dose. Similarly, if they have had their AstraZeneca first dose, they will get their AstraZeneca second dose within 12 weeks. So those people whom we will begin to reach in March, where we have to deliver their second dose, will absolutely get their second dose. But to my right hon. Friend’s point, the more vaccine volumes that will come, and we have tens of millions that will come through beyond February and into March, the faster we can begin to protect those nine categories in phase 1. The moment we have done that, then it is absolutely right that we should begin to look at categories like teachers and police officers—those who may be exposed in their workplace to the risks of this virus.

Of course, it is worth reminding the House that it is two weeks after the first dose, and three weeks after the first dose with AstraZeneca, that people begin to get that protection, not the moment they are jabbed, so there is that lag time as well. But my right hon. Friend’s point is well made: we need to make sure, as we protect greater and greater numbers of people in those nine categories, that we then move very quickly to the next dose.