Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, updates the House of Commons on the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will update the House on covid-19 and our vaccination programme.
Earlier this summer, we took the fourth step on our road map. We were able to take that step because of our vaccines and the way that they are working. The latest data from Public Health England estimates that our jabs have prevented over 100,000 deaths, over 143,000 hospitalisations and around 24 million infections. Across the United Kingdom, we have administered over 91 million vaccines; 88.8% of people over 16 have had their first dose, and 79.8% have had their second dose. Our jabs are building a vast wall of defence for the British people.
But this vital work is not yet complete. With the delta variant sweeping around the world, we have seen how it thrives on pockets of unvaccinated people. Last week, across the UK, we saw an average of 34,000 new cases and 938 hospitalisations each day. It is vital that we continue to plug the gaps in our defences and widen and deepen our wall of defence.
Over the summer, we have continued to do that in several ways. In August, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended that vaccines should be offered to 16 and 17-year-olds. It also recommended jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds with specific underlying health conditions and household contacts of someone who is immunosuppressed. We accepted both recommend- ations, bringing us into line with countries such as Sweden. In recent weeks, 16 and 17-year-olds have been coming out to do their bit in droves, travelling with schoolmates and family members to get the jab.
We are taking the jab to people, too, with walk-in and pop-up vaccination sites at football stadiums and shopping centres, and of course at university freshers’ fairs; I think we have got to 20 universities. Over the bank holiday weekend, NHS pop-up sites at the Leeds and Reading festivals made picking up a jab as easy as getting a beer or a burger. As a result of these kinds of efforts, more than half of 16 and 17-year-olds across the United Kingdom have received their jabs since becoming eligible last month. That is in addition to over three in four—76.3%—18 to 34 year-olds, who have already had at least their first dose. Much of young people’s enthusiasm, I believe, comes from the fact that they have seen at first hand the chaos that covid-19 can bring. They have sacrificed so much and shown that age is no barrier to public spirit. I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking them for playing their part in helping us all to live safely.
On Friday, the JCVI outlined its recommendations on the vaccination of children aged 12 to 15 years who do not have underlying health conditions. It concluded that while there are benefits to vaccinating this cohort, taken purely on health terms the benefit is finely balanced. Building on the JCVI’s advice, we will now consider advice from the UK’s four chief medical officers and make a decision shortly. We have already accepted the JCVI’s recommendation that 12 to 15-year-olds with the following conditions become eligible: haematological malignancy, sickle cell disease, type 1 diabetes, congenital heart disease and poorly controlled asthma. That will amount to an extra 200,000 teens becoming eligible.
I also want to take this opportunity to address vaccination in pregnant women. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives have both recommended vaccination as one of the best defences for pregnant women against severe covid infection. Extensive real world data show our vaccines are safe and highly effective for pregnant women. We now know that pregnant women are more likely to become seriously ill from covid if they are not vaccinated. In fact, 98% of pregnant women in hospital due to covid-19 are unvaccinated. Yet we also know that not one single pregnant woman with two jabs has required hospitalisation with covid-19. I urge pregnant women to continue to come forward and get the jab. Our new Preg-CoV trial is advancing knowledge on how we can even better protect pregnant women and their babies.
Taking all of that together, our overarching ambition is to widen our wall of defence so that we can protect more and more people. As well as widening that wall of defence, we are deepening it. Last Wednesday, 1 September, the JCVI advised that people with severely weakened immune systems should have a third vaccine dose as part of their primary covid-19 vaccination schedule. It will be offered to people over 12 who were severely immunosuppressed at the time of their first or second dose, such as those with leukaemia, advanced HIV and recent organ transplants. This, I must stress, is separate from any potential booster programme for the rest of the population. The JCVI is still investigating who should receive boosters. Our cov-boost study is comparing immune responses produced by third doses of different brands of vaccines.
Will the Minister give way on that point?
Order. This is a statement, so the hon. Gentleman can bob up if he needs to.
As ever, whatever the clinical decision from the JCVI, the NHS will be ready. We will proceed with the same sense of urgency we have had at every point in this campaign.
Vaccines remain our most important line of defence, yet they are not our only line of defence. Regular testing continues to play a crucial part in returning this country to something that feels a bit more like normal. PCR tests remain freely and easily available, and anybody with symptoms should make sure to get tested. Children are returning to classrooms across these islands. I am sure all hon. Members welcome that, as did the Secretary of State for Education at questions this afternoon. They return to an immeasurably better set up: no more home schooling, no more bubbles, teachers vaccinated, and all 16 and 17-year-olds offered a first dose before returning. That matters because we know that face-to-face education is the best place for children and young people.
Rapid testing can uncover hidden cases of the virus at the start of term. Whether it is our constituents or our children, we must encourage people to do it. On their return to school and colleges, students should take two rapid tests on site three to five days apart. They should then continue to test twice weekly at home. To university students, I would also say this: make every effort to get fully vaccinated before going back. It has never been easier to drop in and get a vaccine and the necessary testing. These are straightforward steps, but they are essential in stopping the spread.
Finally, I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming the additional £5.4 billion cash injection we are putting into the NHS. This investment will go straight to the frontline, supporting our covid-19 response over the next six months. The funds include £1 billion to help to deliver routine surgery and treatments for patients, and tackle our backlog. The funds take the Government’s total support for health services in response to covid-19 to over £34 billion this year alone.
We are widening and deepening our wall of defence. We are getting jabs to more people and getting some people more jabs. We are getting the NHS what it needs. The ask of our NHS colleagues continues to be complex and challenging, yet they rise to it day in, day out. I pay tribute to everyone involved in these lifesaving efforts. We must keep going, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Like him, I praise all our NHS staff. I particularly want to associate myself with the remarks about the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women.
Children’s health and wellbeing has always been a driving priority of mine. Children may not have been the face of this pandemic, but they have certainly been among its biggest victims. The record will show that I have been asking in this House about the vaccination of adolescents for some months. I of course understand the position of the JCVI and welcome the review on the wider implications for children’s wellbeing by the chief medical officers. Should vaccination be recommended and the chief medical officers do recommend vaccination, that will command our full support on the Labour Benches. If the chief medical officers recommend vaccination, will the Minister guarantee that our public health workforce, our health visitors and our school nurses, as well as primary care, will have the resources they need to roll out that vaccination?
Children are back to school. In Leicester, children have been back in school for two weeks. In Scotland, children have been back in school for some weeks also, putting upward pressure on infection rates. If the chief medical officers recommend vaccination, how long does the Minister think it will take to roll out that vaccination? Are we talking months? Are we talking weeks? Are we talking days? If he could give us an indication, I am sure we would all be grateful. The Education Secretary has removed many of the infection control mitigations in schools. We urged Ministers to use the summer holidays to install ventilation, air filtration units and carbon dioxide monitors in schools. How many schools have now had those systems installed?
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) is the Minister for vaccines. Primary and secondary school children are due to receive a flu vaccine, yet not only is the NHS apparently running out of blood test tubes, with certain vital tests delayed, but we are now told that flu vaccination will be delayed, because deliveries are delayed by two weeks, and GPs are cancelling flu vaccination appointments. This is before we head into what could be one of the most difficult winters in living memory. What will the Minister do to get a grip of this situation and avoid a flu crisis this winter? If there is a delay in flu vaccines, does he expect that to knock on to any booster jab campaign? Less than a month ago, the Health Secretary said he wanted booster jabs to be given at the same time as flu jabs and he said that they would start this month.
Finally, we of course welcome the new funding for the second half of the financial year and we welcome that it would appear that Ministers have listened to our calls for the discharge to assess funding to be extended, but I think the whole House would agree that surely one of the most heartbreaking, and in my view frankly unforgivable, episodes in the pandemic was the failure to protect care homes and to put that protective ring around care homes as we were promised. If covid has taught us anything, it is that a long-term plan for social care is long overdue and that it should be funded in a fair way. The Minister, along with every Conservative Member, was elected on a manifesto that promised a social care plan and promised no rise in national insurance. The Prime Minister guaranteed no rise in national insurance, but we are told to expect, tomorrow, a rise in national insurance—a tax on workers to pay for a regressive social care policy that simply will not improve the care that people need and deserve. In this House, the Minister used to call national insurance a “tax on jobs”. What would he call a manifesto-breaking national insurance rise now?
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for his support and his words on the vaccination of pregnant women and the protection that the vaccine offers them.
On the right hon. Member’s question about the JCVI advice on 12 to 15-year-olds, the JCVI looked at the very narrow impact of the vaccine on 12 to 15-year-olds, because that is very much its remit. It also advised that the chief medical officers should take a wider look. That is what they are doing as we speak. Panels of experts from local public health as well as other experts are looking at the impact of the vaccine on mental health and the disruption to education specifically for 12 to 15-year-olds. They will come back with recommendations. The JCVI is observing those panels and is very much in the room, as far as that is concerned.
It is also worth reminding the House that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has looked at the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and has approved both vaccines as safe and eligible to be administered to 12 to 15-year-olds. It is not worth our pre-empting the report of the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Throughout the pandemic, we have operationalised the vaccine programme; we prepare early and we prepare well. To give the right hon. Member a direct answer to his question, the NHS is prepared to administer a vaccine within five working days of any recommendation. That does not pre-empt any recommendation. We did the same when none of the vaccines was approved. Some colleagues will recall Brigadier Phil Prosser explaining at the press conference that we had built the equivalent of the infrastructure of a national supermarket chain and were growing it by 20% every week. We have done the same thing when it comes to all outcomes of the deliberations at the JCVI and what it will ultimately recommend.
On education, the Secretary of State for Education addressed many of the issues on the mitigation and controls in schools, as well as testing and the very successful adult vaccination programme that we have delivered, which is now also delivering protection for 16 and 17-year-olds.
I really want to address the point about flu and I hope that we can have a sensible discussion on it. We are being very ambitious on flu. The interim advice from the JCVI is wherever possible to co-administer flu and covid vaccines. Traditionally, flu vaccination begins earlier—it begins now. One of the suppliers, Seqirus, has had a border issue with its Spanish fill-and-finish factory, which it has used for many, many years. This is the first time that it has had this issue. It is meeting the Spanish regulator to see what the issue is. It is being very careful and estimating a one or two-week delay. This will not delay the overall flu vaccination programme at all. Its German and Belgian supply chain has been flowing normally. It is one of the suppliers, so I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to, as a knee-jerk reaction, talk about flu vaccine shortages. We are being incredibly ambitious on flu vaccines—including procuring centrally as well as the traditional procurement through GPs and pharmacies—with a big, big programme.
Wherever possible, we will co-administer. The only caveat I would place on that is that the JCVI has given us only its interim advice on covid. We are not yet there with the cov-boost data, which it will look at. It will give us its final advice on covid. If it chooses a vaccine that requires, for example, a 15-minute observation period, we have a very different challenge in co-administration, but nevertheless, wherever possible, we will co-administer. We have made it possible for vaccinated volunteers to administer flu and covid vaccines.
Finally, on funding, I am glad that the right hon. Member agrees that the £5.4 billion announced today is a good thing. I urge him not to speculate on how we will pay for social care and to wait for the announcement; I am sure that we can then discuss it in this place and in the media.
I have great respect for the excellent job that my right hon. Friend is doing. He will know that Israel shows that even a good vaccination programme does not stop the Delta variant driving up hospitalisations. However, Israel also shows that a booster programme brings down those hospitalisations in as little as two weeks. Given that the big lesson from last year is that acting early can stop the need for lockdowns, as happened in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and a number of other places, is this not a moment for Ministers to say, “Look, we understand that the scientists want to take their time, but we have a reasonable idea of what they are likely to recommend, so we are going to get on with this booster programme before it is too late”?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s excellent question. I would say two things: first, in many ways, the decision taken by our chief medical officers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to increase the dosing interval, including for the vaccine that Israel uses—the Pfizer vaccine—from three to 12 weeks, with it now at an optimal eight weeks, was actually an inspired and clinically incredibly important decision, because it demonstrates, in real-world data, that the durability of the protection is increased over people who have had two jabs with a three-week dosing period. So we are in a slightly more advantageous position, if I can describe it as such.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point on boosters. The booster programme is probably the most important piece of the jigsaw yet to fall into place before we can transition this virus from pandemic to endemic status. I reassure him and the House that the NHS has all the plans in place to deliver the booster programme in what will, in some weeks, probably break our record, which we set in phase 1 of the vaccination programme. The JCVI has given us its interim advice on who needs to boost. It has added, obviously, the immunosuppressed to categories 1 to 4 and it has rightly recommended that we go big on flu. I am equally worried about that. Flu has been non-existent because of the severe social isolation of lockdowns and a big flu season could be detrimental as well. We are ready to go. As soon as cov-boost reports, which is imminent, we will be able to operationalise a massive booster programme.
I thank the Minister for his statement and the update on the vaccination roll-out for pregnant women and the roll-out to young people and those who are most clinically vulnerable. I thank our NHS staff across the four nations, who have dealt with wave after wave of the pandemic and are now at the forefront of the vaccination strategy.
We welcome the additional funding and I seek reassurance from the Minister that, particularly when it comes to young people, there is a holistic approach, so that we deal with not just the physical health aspects, but the mental health aspects. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary health group, I have been inundated with concerns from people across the United Kingdom who cannot access services for young people with eating disorders, for those who self-harm and require crisis intervention, and for those who require the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder to receive the support that they need. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has described a “mental health crisis” that could plague the current generation of children for years to come. Will the Minister acknowledge that a holistic approach is needed, alongside the vaccination strategy, to make sure that we support young people’s mental health and mental health across the generations, as well as to make sure that the funding also reaches the mental health needs of the population at large?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s words of support and for her focus, quite rightly, on mental health. She will know that prior to today’s announcement of £5.4 billion, we also delivered £270 million to primary care for GPs to deal with capacity issues, because they are dealing so well with the covid vaccination programme. However, she makes a very important point that we are very cognisant of and focused on.
As my hon. Friend said, the Government have referred the question of the mass vaccination of healthy children to the chief medical officer, asking him to take into account wider benefits such as the avoidance of disruption to education. However, school closures and restrictions are a political choice, not a scientific inevitability, as the wide variation in school days lost by children in countries around the world shows. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the CMO should base his recommendation on the benefits and risks to children’s health and wellbeing from the vaccination itself, rather than on any potential political decisions that may be taken in future?
Without putting words into the mouth of the chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, I can tell my hon. Friend that the work that he is conducting with his fellow chief medical officers looks specifically at the impact on 12 to 15-year-olds. However, the JCVI looked particularly at the area in which its competence lies and made a recommendation that the chief medical officer should look beyond that to mental health and other areas. That is why he is convening a group of experts from local public health, as well as the royal colleges.
The Minister has some quite fantastic figures about the 16-to-17 cohort, but as a mum of one in west London, may I say that my own boy and all his circle are being diverted to the national booking system? Their generation like doing things at the last minute, so instead can we have more pop-ups and more festivals like the scenes that we saw at Twickenham earlier this year? They do not want to go down the oldies’ routes. Failing that, there are schools, which in my day meant the nit nurse.
Yes, absolutely. We are making it as easy as possible for them to simply walk in and get their jab.
Given the overwhelming evidence, both moral and practical, against covid vaccine passports, will my hon. Friend rediscover the courage of his own convictions, as he once described the proposal as “discriminatory”? If the idea behind the scheme is not his own, will he kindly convey a message to our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to desist from his machinations?
This is an incredibly difficult area, but let me try to describe the challenge here. To keep industries such as the nightclub industry open and sustainable, especially in the next few months, we have to look very seriously at how we keep them safe and not have super-spreader events. We have seen other countries having to shut down nightclubs the moment they reopen them. The worst thing for the industry is to open and shut, open and shut, which is why we are looking to introduce a covid certificate by the end of September for domestic use in large gatherings indoors, especially where we have seen mass spreader events.
The Minister will be aware that there are 3.7 million clinically extremely vulnerable people in this country who had to shield for many months. Many have continued to shield or take far greater precautions than the rest of us since restrictions have eased, and they have had very slow and inconsistent guidance at times. Will he prioritise that group in totality by prioritising booster jabs for the whole group, not just for the half million most at risk? We really need to keep the most vulnerable people safe.
I do not disagree with the hon. Lady; I know what she is talking about. She will have seen the interim advice from the JCVI on phase 1, which is for categories 1 to 4, and phase 2, which is for categories 5 to 9—including category 6, the largest category of those people she describes. The JCVI has yet to deliver its final advice post the cov-boost study data. As we have done throughout the deployment, we will follow the JCVI advice.
The JCVI has assessed the known risks and benefits of the covid vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds and has not recommended it. As the Minister said, the Health Secretary has now referred the matter to the chief medical officers so that they can look at it from a so-called “broader perspective”. Now that children are attending school, half of them have had covid already, they do not need to isolate unless they test positive and they do not need to isolate if they are merely a contact, does the Minister agree that disruption to education will now be much less severe? Furthermore, does he agree that it is not reasonable to use political decisions about schools as leverage to force vaccines on a population of children?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s very thoughtful question. I can reassure her that there is no political decision making; the process that the chief medical officers are undertaking is unencumbered by any political motivation whatsoever. We will absolutely follow their advice, and the JCVI is in the room as they are deliberating. It is important to recall that the JCVI advice was that vaccination is marginally more beneficial to healthy 12 to 15-year olds than non-vaccination, but not enough to recommend a universal vaccination programme. It is also worth reminding the House that we have been vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds who are more vulnerable to serious infection and hospitalisation, as the JCVI recommended.
On vaccine passports for nightclubs, the Minister said yesterday:
“The best way we can keep those industries open…is to work with the industry”.
Does he recognise that industry representatives do not support the proposal? The Night Time Industries Association has said that
“it will cripple the industry.”
Not only is it impractical and indeed unworkable, but it could potentially lead to an increase in illegal events, raves and large house parties—the kind of super-spreader events that the Minister is worried about. In those cases, there will be fewer safety measures. This is a hammer blow for an industry that has suffered more than almost any other over the past year and a half. Will he take its concerns into consideration and think very carefully before bringing such a proposal forward?
The hon. Member raises important points from the industry and we will always make sure that we look at them. One piece of feedback from our earlier consultation was that to be able to check IDs, for example, we would want to make this process equally straightforward for the industry.
I completely support—the whole House will concur—the fantastic work that the NHS has done through the vaccine programme. It is great news that they are coming forward and are ready, but the army of volunteers I saw and worked with in my constituency are exhausted. They need to know up front how often and when they will be needed, because the programme cannot happen without not just vaccinations from the NHS, but the army of people who come forward and put their own lives at risk so others can be safe.
My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point that we look at every single day. In my ops meetings, we have a section dedicated to the workforce and specifically to the volunteers, so that we can make sure that they are put on notice of where and when we think we will need them. The only caveat that I would add is that we have built a very large infrastructure, but it has to flex depending on the advice from the JCVI, the MHRA and, of course, our chief medical officers.
It will not be lost on many people that the various lines of defence that the Minister listed in his statement did not actually include his plans for vaccine passports, presumably because they do not offer us any defence at all. Taking a leaf from the book of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), may I remind the Minister of what he said on Twitter on 12 January? He wrote:
“We have no plans to introduce vaccine passports…No one has been given or will be required to have a vaccine passport.”
When no less a person than Claire Fox said,
“Good to hear. Again. Can we hold you to this?”,
the Minister replied:
“Yes you can Claire.”
For Claire and the many others like her who want to hold the Minister to his words, may I ask when we will get the vote that he promised us?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s question. It is an important question that I want to address head-on, because it is about statements on Twitter; I understand that I am “trending” on Twitter.
I was asked about this by Tom Swarbrick, who replayed to me my February interview. I said to him that the difference between then and now was first that the Delta variant is so much more infections than the previous variants—it takes only a very few particles for someone to be infected—and secondly that we have learnt from the experience of other countries which attempted to reopen sectors such as the nightclub sector and then had to close them rapidly because of super-spreader events. We do know that 60% of people who have had two jabs will not become infected with the Delta variant and therefore cannot infect someone else, although 40% will and can. This is a relative risk that we want to avoid: what we do not want to do is open the industry and then have to shut it down again because of those super-spreader events.
I hope that I have explained myself to the House. It is important that when politicians have new evidence—new data—they are able to change their minds.
All UK adults have now been offered a first dose, and I think it is worth reflecting on what a remarkable achievement that is on the part of the country, the volunteers and indeed the Minister, who deserves a great deal of credit. We have long since protected the vulnerable, and surely very soon we will offer them that booster jab.
Until this point I thought I had understood the strategy completely, but now I am not so sure. What is it? Is it about case numbers, which we still broadcast every day? We never did that when I was in the Minister’s Department and influenza was having a bad year.
My question goes to the heart of the stuff about covid status certification, and about vaccinating healthy children. In short, what is the strategy now? What do the Government mean when they say we must learn to live with covid? Could the Minister give us his view?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s important and thoughtful question, and for his words of encouragement as well.
Let us look at what the vaccines have achieved. We have achieved a situation in which we have weakened—severely weakened—the link between cases going up rapidly, serious infection, hospitalisation and death. We are in a very different place today. This new equilibrium is where we want to be able to head to in steady state. The challenge that will come over the next few weeks and months is that there will be upward pressure on that equilibrium. We may break it in the wrong way because schools are reopening, there will be a higher number of infections, and those infections could seep through to the older age groups who are much more vulnerable. The booster campaign would help to push it the right way, with the infection rates being forced up but not leaking into the most vulnerable. That is why the JCVI stressed that we should boost the most vulnerable first.
I hope that this next challenge will enable us to demonstrate to the world that we are one of the first major economies in the world to bring about the transition of this virus from pandemic to endemic and then live with it over the years to come, through an annual vaccination or inoculation programme.
It is interesting to note that the Minister has a short-term job in some respects, as the vaccines Minister. He should perhaps recognise that some of us are in favour of covid passports because they should also be a short-term measure, and it will probably be a sign of his success if they are.
My main point, however, is that the Minister dangled in front of us—although I know that this is not in the written statement that was circulated—the extra money going into the NHS. I have mentioned the short-term nature of the Minister’s job in some respects, but it is long-term funding that is needed. We know that money injected at short notice in large amounts is not always spent very well, even by our beloved health service, and I have direct experience of recruitment processes whereby posts have become pretty much redundant by the time people have been recruited to them. What is the Minister’s Department doing—and what is he doing personally if he has some responsibility in this regard—to ensure that the money will be spent well, and that there is a long-term financial plan for recovery?
I have grateful for the hon. Lady’s words, including those about the issue of vaccine certification, on which I agree with her. No one in this Government, and certainly not this Prime Minister—as I said at the weekend, it goes against his DNA—wants to curtail people’s freedoms, so we will not do this lightly at the end of September. As for her question about the funding, let me try and give her some more details.
The £5.4 billion cash injection over the next six months in response to covid-19 includes £1 billion to help tackle the backlog, delivering routine surgery and treatments for patients. As I said in my statement, the total Government support for the health service is £34 billion in this year alone. The funding will go towards helping the NHS to manage the immediate pressure of the pandemic. As I have said, it includes an extra £1 billion to help tackle the backlog, along with £2.8 billion to cover related costs such as those of the enhanced infection control measures that are so important to keep staff and patients safe from the virus, and £478 million to continue the hospital discharge programme, freeing up beds.
Six years ago we lost 28,000 people to seasonal flu. Can the Minister assure me that we will not prioritise the jabbing of 12 to 15-year-olds over the seasonal flu programme, given that the number of children whom we would lose to covid would be vanishingly small in any event? Can he also assure me that in his planning he has considered not only the 15-minute wait that the Pfizer jab requires, but the extra time and effort that are required to get truly informed consent from children whose motivation cannot be clinical, must be altruistic, and may be subject to peer pressure?
Let me try to unpack my hon. Friend’s question. First, no decision has been made on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds who are healthy. We are vaccinating those who are vulnerable. We will not pre-empt the important work that the chief medical officers are doing and on which they are experts. Operationally, we have the infrastructure to be able to deal with both programmes.
The flu and covid booster campaigns are the largest endeavours. As I said earlier, in some weeks we will probably break the record that we set in the original covid vaccination programme. The flu vaccine is traditionally delivered through the brilliant work of GPs and, of course, community pharmacies, and they are doing that again. They have raised their ambition and ordered more than they did last year—which was a record-breaking year—and we have procured centrally as well. I can reassure my hon. Friend that that is our priority. I worry very much about a bad flu season this year, which is why we have been so much more ambitious in that regard, as well as on the covid booster campaign.
In his statement, the Minister emphasised that universities should get double jags, but before the recess I highlighted the case of students who had had a jag in Scotland and a jag in England, and had been unable to travel abroad because their covid certification was not clear. At the time, someone from NHS Digital said that they were working on doing the same in England with the NHS covid pass. Given that people who have jags in different parts of the four nations may be discriminated against by vaccine passports, can the Minister provide an update on how that is progressing?
I will go back and check, but I am almost certain that the NHS England system is now able to take in data from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in terms of jabs—or jags.
I thank the Minister for his statement, and also for recognising the young people who were at low risk but have taken up the offer of a jab to protect more vulnerable people in their families, workplaces and communities.
The figures that the Minister presented on pregnant women needing hospital treatment for covid were very stark. Can he reassure me that pregnant ladies are obtaining advice at the earlier possible opportunity from their GPs or midwives, and are themselves being reassured that the jab is safe for them and for their unborn children? Those figures would certainly hit home with them.
I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We have a pretty substantial outreach programme, including webinars with midwives so that they are given all the available tools to ensure that pregnant women are given the protection that they so vitally require.
The effective cut-off for care home staff to get their first jab in order to comply with the Government’s deadline is just 10 days away, and those who are not double-jabbed in time will not be able to work in care homes. However, there has yet to be any unequivocal guidance on who will be exempt from this, and care home managers in my constituency are desperately concerned, especially in the light of the most unprecedented care home staffing crisis in a generation. They are desperate for that guidance. Will the Minister provide it today?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: 11 November is the date by which care homes and care home providers will have to comply with the legislation on the vaccination programme. I would be happy to share with him the guidance and the communication that we have sent out to the sector, and I will write to him after this statement.
I particularly welcome what the Minister had to say about pregnant women. My own daughter is expecting a baby in January, and she found it very difficult to get such definitive advice earlier in the summer, although she has now had her jab. I want to ask the Minister specifically about another issue. How can UK citizens who have had their vaccinations abroad ensure that those vaccinations are held up as valid here in the United Kingdom? For example, I have a constituent who had his AstraZeneca vaccinations in Saudi Arabia and is struggling to have them recognised here.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; we are working flat out. We have the pilot scheme in which we recognise vaccinations from America and Europe, and we are looking to expand that to other countries so that people who have had a vaccines from a list of approved vaccines in those countries can benefit from the same freedoms that people who have been double-vaccinated in the UK have.
I thank the Minister for his statement. Can he reaffirm that no child will be vaccinated without explicit parental consent, and that, should consent not be given, that will not affect the child’s education in terms of school outings, sporting events or residentials? Does he believe that this protection needs to be further enshrined in law?
I repeat to the House that no decision has been made on vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds. We have to allow the chief medical officers to do the work that they need to do, with the JCVI in the room, and to come back to us. I will return to the House and share with Members the decision that is made. In terms of school-age vaccination programmes in general, parental consent is always required, and the NHS is well-versed in effectively receiving that consent. On the rare occasions when there is a difference of opinion between the child and the parents, the child’s competence and level of understanding of the vaccine come into play. NHS clinical advice is very much that that is a rarity, and parental consent is required for school-age vaccination programmes.
The vaccination roll-out has been excellent; no one can dispute that. However, I have two issues, one of which has just been covered, on the proposals to vaccinate young people. First, if the benefits of doing that are so small and we are vaccinating children to protect the wider public, should we not be asking the many adults who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated now and stop placing further pressure on our young people who have suffered enough to protect the elderly throughout the pandemic? Secondly, if we still decide to offer vaccinations to 12 to 15-year-olds, does my hon. Friend agree that this should ultimately be the parents’ decision? I fear that removing the responsibility that parents have for their children in this area, and in many others, could have unknown consequences for family relationships for many years to come.
I reiterate that the work that the chief medical officers are carrying out is looking at the impact of this—whether it be educational, psychological or relating to the public health impact—on 12 to 15-year-olds. As I say, they will then come back with their advice, having had the JCVI in the room for those deliberations. Parental consent is required in any school-age vaccination programme, but I do not want to pre-empt this decision. No decision has yet been made, but parental consent would be required. On the very rare occasions when there is a difference of opinion, Gillick competence applies.
May I take this opportunity—the first one after lockdown, I think—to thank the Minister, his officials and the whole of the national health service for the fantastic job that they have done and for their brilliant roll-out of the vaccine? Will he join me in congratulating the Order of St John, which has done a huge job in carrying out the vaccinations and in training and co-ordinating volunteers? It has done a brilliant job, and it is worthy of our thanks.
I will absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating St John’s volunteers, who have done a phenomenal job. They really rose to the challenge when we contacted them and said that we needed them. They delivered in spades. I thank my hon. Friend for all his words: this has been a massive team effort involving the health service, the public sector and of course the private sector as well.
I would like to thank my hon. Friend for the incredible vaccine roll-out; many lives have been saved by it. My question is about domestic vaccine passports, and I have to apologise because I get a bit confused by the nomenclature of what is being proposed. On the one hand, we have what I understand to be vaccine-only passports, which say simply that someone has been vaccinated and that that is all that counts. Then we have covid status certification, which can also include negative testing and proof of recent infection. Crucially, this is not just about whether someone has been vaccinated, because as I understand it, a lateral flow test negative result is the best evidence that someone is no longer infectious. Is my understanding correct that the proposal for the end of September is for vaccine-only domestic vaccine passports? If that is the case, why has that moved from covid status certification?
Order. Just before the Minister answers, I must point out that we need to finish this statement fairly shortly. Colleagues should keep their questions very short, and the answers should be correspondingly short.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to my hon. Friend for his question. I guess the reason for the shift by the end of September, when all 18-year-olds will have had the opportunity to get two jabs, is that testing provides a limited protective assurance and allows for the potential for self-testing fraud. The effectiveness of testing-based certification can also be undermined by a single incursion into a setting. Transmission, serious illness and hospitalisation are reduced using vaccination-based certification, even with incursions, so that is the thinking behind this. I reiterate that nobody does this lightly. We do not curtail people’s freedoms lightly; this is purely so that we can keep industries and sectors open and not have to close them down again if there is a super-spreader event.
I thank the excellent Minister for coming to the Dispatch Box. When are we going to get the debate and the vote on vaccine passports?
Can my hon. Friend reassure residents in Scunthorpe that the very welcome booster programme will make full use of pharmacies and our fantastic vaccination hubs and, if possible, those routine contacts such as winter flu jab appointments and asthma checks, to ensure that we do not lose any GP appointment time over these much-welcomed boosters?
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that GPs need to do more than just the vaccination programme, the booster programme and the flu vaccination programme. We also have to recognise that they do an incredible job in protecting the most vulnerable from flu, and that they were the backbone of the covid vaccination programme. We are continuing to work with primary care networks, but we have enhanced the pharmacy offer as well. I will be able to set out more detail on that when we begin the booster programme.
I am sorry to press the Minister on a hot topic, but although I understand the need for limited and specific use of vaccine passports—perhaps in nightclub settings, which are particularly risky, as he has said—the admission yesterday that the proposal had been expanded to include larger venues and gatherings is really beginning to concern my constituents, especially when we have vaccinated around of 80% of the population. Will this be a high water mark for their use, and when will the criterion potentially end?
My hon. Friend has heard me say today that no one embarks on this lightly, and it is not in the Prime Minister’s DNA to curtail people’s freedoms. It is purely so that we can have sustainable continuation of an open economy that we would introduce such programmes. I do not know—if anyone claims otherwise, they are foolhardy or foolish—when we can definitely say that the virus has transitioned from pandemic to endemic status.
Medical autonomy on vaccinations has been removed from workers in care home settings, so when will medical autonomy be removed from nurses, doctors and consultants in the NHS?
In the original consultation on social care conditions of deployment, which we eventually introduced and have discussed today, part of the feedback was that we should consult on the wider health service, including frontline healthcare workers. By the way, I commend both social care and healthcare workers because the majority of them have come forward to be vaccinated. Indeed, more than 94% of frontline healthcare workers have had both doses. We will bring forward a consultation on this, because there is a duty of care for those looking after vulnerable people in hospitals or care homes to be protected against covid.
Delivering covid booster jabs alongside flu vaccinations presents additional operational challenges. Will my hon. Friend do everything possible to co-ordinate these jabs, to ensure that we have very high uptake and to ensure the jabs arrive in Stoke-on-Trent in good time?
Yes, I will.
Is there any risk to older age groups who, because they are more vulnerable, had both jabs earlier, that the effectiveness of those jabs might wear off sooner and that there might be a gap of vulnerability before they can get their booster shots?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight that there is a group of older patients who received both doses with a three-week dosing interval, not a 12-week dosing interval. They will be our priority when it comes to boosters. The data from Cov-Boost is imminent, as I said earlier. The system is ready and primed to go as soon as we have that data, so that we boost the most vulnerable, including the group to which he refers, as quickly as possible to offer that additional protection.
During the summer I visited the “Grab a Jab” van in Aylesbury, which proved especially popular with younger people. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating everybody involved in rolling out that vaccination programme and in encouraging all 16 and 17-year-olds in the Aylesbury constituency to get their jab so that they can live a full life, whether studying, working or just having a good time?
I certainly urge all 16 and 17-year-olds to come forward to get their jab and the protection and freedoms that go with it. I thank the “Grab a Jab” team in Aylesbury for all the work they have done.
The strongest incentive for getting the vaccine is obviously to protect yourself and your loved ones. Although the risk of covid to secondary school-age children may be low, the risk to those they live with could be much higher. Will the chief medical officers consider offering covid vaccines to 12 to 15-year-olds who live with immunosuppressed or other extremely clinically vulnerable people in their household?
My understanding is that, for 12 to 15-year-olds who are healthy, the chief medical officer is looking at the impact on them specifically, whether it be their mental health or the other impacts of disruption to education. He is consulting widely with local directors of public health and the Royal Colleges.