Covid-19 Vaccination Roll-out DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Stephen DoughtyMain Page: Stephen Doughty (Labour (Co-op) - Cardiff South and Penarth)
(1 month, 3 weeks ago)Westminster Hall
The hon. Member has knocked it out of the park; she is absolutely right. It is key that we get our kids back in there so that they can socialise and work together again, and be the engine room of our society for the future. That will only happen when we get them back to school and facilitate that.
I received an email today from Ben Sidor, a student at Queen’s University Belfast. It is not just at the school level, but at the university level that people are being denied the positive interactions with their friends and peers that will allow them to become the men and women of tomorrow that society will look up to generation after generation. We must encourage that.
The hon. Member for Winchester mentioned the use of other organisations, which is important. Community pharmacies are key to the roll-out of the vaccine. Frankly, community pharmacists in my constituency have saved the NHS in the last couple of years. They are undervalued and underrated, yet they play a key role. Getting pharmacists on to the frontline to help with the roll-out is critical.
I also welcome the call to use the skills of our military. The Army is brilliant at logistical planning. We should use its skill to roll out the plan and to make sure that it is quick, efficient and agile, and that it responds to the needs of the community on the ground. There is no reason why our Army could not be used for that positive work. We are quite happy to send it to Sierra Leone to roll out vaccination projects there, so why can we not do that in our own nation and use its logistical planning skills?
I fear that there will be a shortage that will have an impact on certain parts of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland protocol already means that PPE is waiting at Stranraer and cannot get into Northern Ireland because of tax inspectors. Can you imagine, Sir David, if the same happened with vaccinations—if they were ready for Northern Ireland, but could not get there because of the protocol? That needs to be addressed urgently, and I raised the point personally with the Chancellor today.
I leave hon. Members with those thoughts. I welcome the debate, which is very important. I hope that those who wish, of their free will, to have the vaccination have that facilitated urgently.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
I very much welcome this debate, and I am grateful to my many constituents for signing the petition—I believe Twickenham was about 13th on the list of signatories. Like many other Members, I have received many emails from school staff and early years staff urging me to participate in this debate and to press for the prioritisation of those staff.
One thing that strikes me is that a number of the staff—I very much agree with them—said that they accept that health and care workers, absolutely, and the most vulnerable, so those who are very old and at highest risk, should be front of the queue. Generally, I do not think that the discussion is around those top four priority groups. There is probably more of a discussion to be had on some of the lower groups. The JCVI has said that, after all its priority groups, it is a matter of policy as to whether other groups, such as teaching staff, are prioritised.
The Liberal Democrats have proposed that teaching staff should perhaps be in group 7, but that is up for discussion. Indeed, if we look at some of the data on the lowest priority group according to the JCVI, the 50 to 55-year-olds, they are at very little higher risk compared with the rest of the general population. I would contend that there is a policy discussion to be had on some of those lower groups that the JCVI put forward, and on whether teaching staff and early years staff should go in there.
I must declare an interest as the mother of a two-year-old and a six-year-old. I am utterly delighted that childcare settings are open: my two-year-old is a handful, and my husband could not home-school our six-year-old daughter if my son was at home, so I am very grateful to the staff in early years settings who put themselves at risk day to day.
I appreciate that vaccinating early years staff and teaching staff will not necessarily prevent the spread of disease, because we do not yet have the data to show that; it will merely give them protection, but that is important. We are all united, across the House, in that we want to see schools return as soon as possible. The most disadvantaged are being hurt, and that is not just the very poorest on free school meals. Over the Christmas holidays, I had a conversation with a mother of three who does not qualify for free school meals, but is just above that line—just about managing. She could not afford devices for her kids in the first lockdown, so she was having to borrow to be able to home-school them—it really is hurting the most vulnerable, because the devices for home schooling are not out there as widely as they should be. It is also having an impact on children’s and young people’s mental health, a subject that I am passionate about and that has already been raised today. Before the pandemic, one young person in 10 had a diagnosable mental health condition; that figure has already risen to one in eight.
I particularly want to shout out for special educational needs and disabilities. By definition, those settings have to remain open, because they have the most vulnerable children. I have had a number of representations from staff and governors in SEND schools in my constituency; one member of staff from Clarendon Primary Centre in Hampton pointed out that, like in early years and some of the younger primary settings, pupils with special educational needs and disabilities struggle to socially distance. The staff provide personal care, including changing, to a wide age range. Some pupils spit and bite; most pupils cannot tolerate the invasive nature of a lateral flow or PCR test. His school has over 60% attendance and his class has 80%—he says, “We are fully open.” More than 50% of pupils in that school are free school meal or pupil premium kids.
It is quite clear that in such settings additional protection for teachers and other school staff is very much warranted, so I urge the Minister to revisit some of the lower-level groups on the JCVI priority list. As I tried to allude to in the main Chamber earlier, there is a desire to have a 24/7 vaccination programme as and when supply allows. The workforce is there to deliver it, so why cannot we include teachers and early years staff?
Our children and young people are really suffering in this pandemic. We owe it to them—and to the people who are taking care of them and helping them to develop into young adults—to protect them as best we can.