First vaccines mark ‘watershed moment’ in Covid battle as London faces Tier 3 threat

Published: 8 December 2020

Post Desk : The biggest immunisation programme in NHS history has begun as the first Britons received the coronavirus vaccine.

The first patient was vaccinated just before 7am as dozens of hospital hubs across the country began administering the Pfizer/BioNTech jab on what is being dubbed “V-Day”.

In a statement, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “Today is a watershed moment in the fight against Covid-19 as the first vaccinations are administered. It is testament to the efforts of all the scientists, researchers, manufacturers and the thousands of volunteers who took part in clinical trials who made this moment possible.”

It comes as mayor Sadiq Khan and Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged Londoners to stick strictly to Tier 2 rules to prevent a move up into Tier 3 next week, as new data reveals a potentially “devastating” rise in infection rates across the capital.

aster vaccine is rolled out, sooner tiers can be scrapped
Matt Hancock said the faster the vaccine is rolled out, the sooner the tier system can be removed altogether.

Conservative Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) said: “As more and more of us are vaccinated against Covid-19, can (Mr Hancock) outline what plans there are to ease the most draconian measures across the tier system so that people and businesses can sensibly return to normal?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Whilst the vaccine rolls out the best way to get anybody’s area down through the tiers is to continue to follow the restrictions that are, unfortunately, still absolutely necessary to keep people safe.

“However, having said that, because we have a vaccine, the faster that we can roll out the vaccine, the sooner we can get to the point where we can get rid of the system altogether.”

Brexit won’t impede vaccine rollout
Matt Hancock said the Government has “five contingency plans” to ensure the vaccine supply chain remains functioning no matter the outcome of UK and EU trade talks.

Labour’s Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) said the vaccine news “does contrast to the rather alarming revelations last night that we may be veering towards a no-deal Brexit”.

She added: “If that does occur, could he guarantee that there will be no disruption to supply chains of all these different AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer vaccines?”

Mr Hancock replied: “To assure her on the point about logistical disruption, we have five contingency plans in total to ensure that we can continue with the vaccination supply no matter if there are different types of disruption.”

Matt Hancock unable to confirm a timescale on vaccine dose numbers given the challenges faced in manufacturing the jab
Asked by Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson about the number of healthy under-50s who will be vaccinated by the 2021 summer holidays, Mr Hancock told the Commons: “Because we’re reliant on the manufacturing process, which is itself a difficult challenge, we can’t put figures on when that rollout will be.

“But we hope we’ll be able to lift the measures by the spring and we hope that by next summer we’ll all be having a much more normal summer.

“I don’t want to put too much more detail on it than that, and I can’t put more in terms of the numbers because there are so many contingencies that mean what we can be sure of and work and plan to is for the NHS to be able to deliver the rollout at the speed at which the manufacturers can manufacture.”

Matt Hancock tells the Commons he hopes vaccinations in care homes can “start before Christmas”
Responding to former Conservative minister Damian Green, the Health Secretary said: “I hope that we can get the vaccine out to residents of care homes as soon as is feasibly possible.

“They are in the top priority clinically and it’s simply a question of how quickly we can operationalise getting the vaccine out to care homes.

“I hope that that can start before Christmas.”

Matt Hancock warns people to “not blow it” and follow measures to keep others safe given the vaccine rollout is in its early stages
Asked by Conservative Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) if the UK should be able to move quicker to lift local restrictions in the new year, Mr Hancock replied in the Commons: “I very much hope so but there’s some time between now and then.

“We’ve got to temper our joy and enthusiasm at today’s announcement with the need to keep each other safe between now and then. Let’s not blow it since we can see the answer is on the horizon.”

Mr Hancock also quoted The Merchant of Venice, in a nod to the second person to be vaccinated – 81-year-old William Shakespeare, from Warwickshire.

The Health Secretary said: “Well, this year I’ve sometimes turned for inspiration to the Bard, when they prick us do we not bleed?

“It was a delight and a coincidence to find that Mr William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, a constituent of the vaccine rollout minister (Nadhim Zahawi) – by coincidence, don’t get any ideas – was called forward to be the second person to be vaccinated by the NHS.”
More hospitals will be added to the list that can start vaccinating people “later today”
Responding to Conservative MP Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe), he said: “We’ve started at 70 hospitals across the UK. Those are the ones that are best able to deal with the difficult logistics of having a vaccine that has to be stored at minus 70.

“But I understand the desire for every hospital to get on that list and we will be publishing a further list later today.”

Matt Hancock says he has a “high confidence that the summer of 2021 will be a bright one”
Jeremy Hunt, Conservative chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, asked: “It is very, very cold outside and the question on many people’s minds is are they now able to book a summer holiday? So what is his answer to that question and is there anywhere in particular that he would recommend if the answer was yes?”

Mr Hancock replied: “I do have high confidence that the summer of 2021 will be a bright one without the sort of restrictions that made the summer of 2020 more restrictive. I’ve booked my holiday. I’m going to Cornwall.”

SNP public health spokesman Martyn Day said: “Recent studies have shown as few as 54% of the UK population are certain to have the vaccination. There is clear need to counter misinformation.”

Responding, Mr Hancock said: “Countering disinformation is incredibly important. That is best done with positive information and explaining objectively why the vaccine is safe and how it’s safe.

“I think the thing that we can all do in this House is positively talk about the benefits of the vaccine for keeping you safe and keeping your community safe.”

Matt Hancock says rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine has been “emotional for many of us”
Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is indeed a momentous day and we can all look forward to a much better 2021.”

Mr Hancock responded: “That’s right, we can all look forward to a much brighter 2021 and we must stick with it for now, but we can see the way through this.”

He added: “Overall, may I join (Mr Ashworth) in saying how wonderful it was to see the pictures on the TV this morning.

“It was emotional for many of us and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to make this progress.”

Schools will be allowed to take an inset day on Friday next week so teachers do not have to engage with track and trace issues on Christmas Eve, minister suggests
Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb told MPs that the Government wants to ensure school staff have a break from identifying potential coronavirus cases.

Speaking to a virtual Education Select Committee, Mr Gibb said: “We are about to announce that inset days can be used on Friday December 18, even if an inset day had not been originally scheduled for that day.

“We want there to be a clear six days so that by the time we reach Christmas Eve staff can have a proper break without having to engage in the track and trace issues.”

London coronavirus deaths continue to rise faster than national average
There were 190 deaths in the capital involving Covid in the most recent week – up 18.7 per cent on the 160 in the previous week.

The number of coronavirus deaths in London continues to rise faster than the national average, according to the Office for National Statistics.