Labour pushes government to deliver 24-hour Covid vaccination programme

Elliot Chappell

Labour has welcomed the publication of the government’s plan to immunise the population against Covid in the fight to beat the virus, but has called on ministers to deliver a 24-hour vaccination programme.

Responding to a statement delivered in the Commons this evening by the vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi, the shadow health minister challenged the government over various points in its proposals to administer the jab.

Zahawi had used his statement to the Commons this afternoon to tell MPs: “As of today in England, 2.33 million vaccinations have been given, with 1.96 million receiving their first dose and 374,613 having already received both doses.

“We’re on track to deliver our commitment of offering a first vaccine to everyone in the most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month.

“Groups, it is worth reminding ourselves, that account for more than four out of every five fatalities from the Covid virus – or some 88% of deaths.”

Responding for the Labour Party this evening, Alex Norris told MPs: “Given the government’s failures with the test and trace system and the procurement of personal protective equipment, it is right that we scrutinise these plans carefully.”

The shadow minister said the plan published by the government today was “quite a conventional plan”, using “traditional delivery mechanisms”, and argued that “exceptional circumstances call for an exceptional response”.

He described his surprise that proposals for 24-hour access to vaccination had been ruled out during a Downing Street briefing earlier today and asked the government minister to outline the basis for this decision.

He also asked the Zahawi to give an “assurance that this plan as written, as constituted today, will deliver on what’s been promised – those top four priority categories covered by the middle of next month”.

Zahawi told MPs this evening that 24-hour vaccination would make it “much harder for you to actually just target the vaccine at the four cohorts” and said it had been decided against to ensure “even spread and targeting very closely”.

Both Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner called today for a 24-hour vaccination programme. The Labour leader said in a speech this morning that the country needs “round-the-clock vaccine programmes, 24-hours a day, seven days a week”.

Rayner added this afternoon: “Our wonderful NHS staff are rising to the challenge, as they always do, to deliver the vaccine. The British people have sacrificed so much, now the government must deliver for the British people.

“The Prime Minister needs to use this lockdown to develop a round-the-clock vaccine programme, 24-hours a day, 7 days-a-week. If the government can’t sort out 24/7 vaccinations they need to admit that this is as a result of their own shortcomings, not blame the public and NHS staff.”

Norris also emphasised tonight the need for government to protect frontline health workers throughout the roll-out of the pandemic and to not repeat the mistakes seen earlier in the health crisis on the supply of personal protective equipment.

“Protecting them is the right thing to do… But, also, it’s pragmatically a point of emphasis for us because we need them to be well in order to keep doing the incredible job that they’re doing,” he told parliament.

Highlighting that around 46,000 health staff absent from work for Covid-related reasons, Norris said despite being in category two under the plan for vaccination there “does not seem to be national-level emphasis on inoculating them”.

The shadow minister reiterated Labour’s demand that health and social care workers receive the vaccine “within the fortnight” and urged the government minister to commit to publishing daily figures on their vaccination.

He also pointed out that, while there are 11,500 community pharmacies in England, there are only 200 participating in the roll-out and asked: “Can that really be right?” Zahawi said the 200 are those that can deliver 1,000-plus jabs each week.

On social care, Norris stressed that only 23% of elderly care home residents had been vaccinated, compared to 40% of all those over 80, and asked Zahawi to reconfirm the pledge that they will all receive the jab by the end of the month.

Zahawi’s appearance in the Commons came after Matt Hancock warned on Sunday that the NHS is in a “very, very serious situation” and Chris Whitty said this morning that the next few weeks will be “the worst” for the health service.

The government has said that more than half a million people over the age of 80 are set to receive letters inviting them to book an appointment, by phone or online, and attend one of the seven mass vaccination centres set to open in England.

NHS national medical director Stephen Powis suggested in a Covid briefing this evening that the plan is to vaccinate everyone in the nine “vulnerable” groups by April, which amounts to 32 million people and over half of UK adults.

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