Published — 21 January, 2021

View from Westminster

Nobody wanted this lockdown, but there is a big difference between the current restrictions and previous ones. That difference is the light at the end of the tunnel provided by the vaccines. And the good news about the vaccination programme seems to be building locally and nationally.

The approval of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines are massive steps forward in our fight against coronavirus. The UK was the first country in the world to sign an agreement with Oxford University/AstraZeneca, securing access to 100 million doses of the vaccine on behalf of the whole of the UK, crown dependencies and overseas territories. Alongside the existing Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the UK’s vaccination programme can continue its expansion over the first part of 2020. As of going to press around 4 million of the most vulnerable people have been vaccinated and most commentators agree that the vaccination programme is successful.

As most readers of our local paper will know, the Yorkshire Event Centre at the Great Yorkshire Showground is our local vaccination site. When I visited some days ago it had already vaccinated 3000 people with the figure set to increase dramatically. Vaccination teams have gone to many care homes too to vaccinate those unable to visit the centre. A programme alongside this is getting the vaccine to front line healthcare workers at the hospital and beyond. This is an encouraging start, but of course there are many more people that need to receive the vaccine and that work is continuing and quickening as the supply of vaccine increases.

The vaccine supply is being handled nationally, but is based on when the manufacturers can supply it and the regulators give each batch safety approval. This is not a quick process but as soon as it is available, it is distributed around the country to vaccination centres where it is immediately used. Because supply is the critical issue, this means that at first not every centre was open every day however this situation has changed radically as the supply of vaccine has increased.

The numbers of people vaccinated in the UK compared to other countries shows our system is working. It is not a race between countries, it is a race against the virus spreading. The comparisons however are an indication of how well the system is performing. The news is encouraging. We are vaccinating at a faster rate than any other large developed country. We are vaccinating vastly more people everyday than become infected with the virus; 140 people a minute are receiving the vaccine. I know people want the vaccine as soon as possible for themselves or their loved ones. We all do. But I think that when the NHS asks for patience and when they are going as fast as they are, that seems a reasonable request to me.

When I visited the vaccination centre I was impressed by what I saw. The whole operation between NHS staff and volunteers to create the vaccination centre is remarkable. They were vaccinating between 125 and 135 people per hour very shortly after it opened and as supply ramps up the number of vaccinations they can handle can increase too. The feedback I have had from constituents who have been vaccinated is all positive. The atmosphere in the centre was great.

This is all good news but with a giant warning. Even though we can see the finish line, we must remain vigilant and take every care. The NHS advice is to comply with the guidelines and suppress the spread whilst they roll out the vaccinations. The more clinicians we can spare from caring for COVID patients to vaccinate people the quicker we will get out of this. So depressing infections not only stops our hospitals getting overloaded, it potentially means vaccinations can proceed even more quickly. That’s an outcome we should all stay at home for.

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