Published — 22 February, 2021

View from Westminster

Although locked down with our everyday lives much restricted there is a palpable sense of relief in the air.

At the time of writing over 13.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered.  As you read this we will have reached the government’s target date for vaccinating the top four groups in phase one of the vaccination programme – that’s 15 million people.  It will be close, which will always be the case with ambitious targets, but the signs are good.

To put this in context – we have vaccinated nine out of 10 of the over-75s in England.  One quarter of all adults have received their first dose. Importantly, vaccines have been offered to every care home resident and staff across the country. That’s 10,307 care homes. Just to show how well our local teams are doing, every care home in our area was reached some days ahead of target.

Only two countries have vaccinated more people that the United Kingdom – China and the United States.

I know some have questioned the government’s judgment calls throughout the pandemic.  That is right and healthy and a feature of how the public and media have interacted with their own government’s actions across the globe. 

But right now it seems the clinicians and the government made good calls on the vaccine.  We reached very early agreements with the vaccine producers establishing our access to bulk supplies.  Our safety regime ran aspects of the testing and assurance process concurrently meaning we knew the vaccines were safe quickly.  The medical advice on the efficacy of a longer gap between the two doses was taken, and stood by, in the heat of opposition; the World Health Organisation is now recommending that approach.  And the NHS and the army geared up quickly to ensure that jabs were going into people’s arms as fast as supplies of vaccine arrived.

There is growing confidence that by May all the over-50s will have been offered a vaccine.  This means 99 per cent of those who are likely to be hospitalised or die from COVID-19 will have been vaccinated.

I have been keeping residents who are signed up to my email service up-to-date on vaccinations regularly.  If anyone wishes to receive the update they can do so at the bottom of the homepage on my website.

Despite cases falling rapidly, nationally there are around 1000 daily deaths and high hospitalisation rates, yet people locally are still breaching the lockdown.  Last weekend the police issued six fines in the Harrogate district.  COVID-19 bed occupancy rates in Harrogate hospital remain high and have only come down slowly over the past few weeks.  Difficult though it is, particularly with the feeling that the vaccines are bringing us salvation, the lockdown must be observed to protect vulnerable people – those at risk of catching COVID and those who need treatment for other conditions but find staff and facilities aren’t available.

There are also new variants to contend with.  The dominant variant in the UK is the new variant identified late last year.  There is good evidence that the vaccines are highly effective against this variant.  The South African variant is present in small numbers in the UK and there have been no cases yet in the Harrogate district.  If it does spread, the indications are that the vaccines are effective at significantly reducing severe illness and death with this variant too.  It may be more effective even that that – trials are ongoing.

So we can go into the spring sharing a strong sense of optimism but should continue our cautious approach.  Our emergence from the shadow of COVID will throw up new challenges about preparation for the possibility of future pandemics, about the future of high street retail, about how we work, about how changes to human activity, demonstrated during the pandemic, affect the environment and many more challenges too.

Our success developing, manufacturing and administering the vaccine should give us confidence that we can meet these challenges too.

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