From a standing start last April to the first vaccinations in January, the UK has achieved the near-impossible: instigating a process that normally takes 10 years. What a coup for Kate Bingham and her vaccine task force, working so strategically alongside the business and health departments.
Remarkably, the Government has met its 15 million target ahead of schedule. By contrast just over 17 million people have been vaccinated right across the European Union. Amid growing global demand for vaccines, we must maintain our impressive head start, adapting to the next phases of the rollout.
I am deputy chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) whose report this week on the vaccine programme reveals the three main supply and planning issues threatening our early achievements. These include changes to the priority list, such as the need to vaccinate teachers and other front-line workers. Among other potential game-changers are the arrival of new variants and the possible need for an annual vaccination programme.
The vaccine is the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and everyone is celebrating its success. But what does this progress mean for our future?
The government must ensure that all England’s schools reopen fully by March 8 at the latest. Rumours of a phased return are a nightmare for the many teachers condemned to continue the demanding hybrid version of virtual and face-to-face learning. As infections fall, we need an exit route for the entire economy.
Lifting restrictions too quickly could trigger a surge in hospital cases. But over-caution could be equally dangerous, destroying livelihoods and creating an epidemic of mental illness.
The first four priority groups vaccinated comprise our most vulnerable people, with over 80 per cent of deaths so far drawn from their ranks. Now these groups are protected, we can focus on the damage inflicted elsewhere. Lockdown fanatics need to consider the genuine hardship and financial ruin so many of my constituents are experiencing. Some face losing their homes and life savings.
In an unpredictable and often tragic year, the Government has made tough, far-sighted decisions. We currently lead the world in protecting our people, through successful measures like stretching the period between the first and second vaccine dose. But now the PM must be bold.
Trust the vaccine programme, and open all shops, pubs, gyms, and hairdressers by Easter. The naysayers will deplore the lifting of lockdown over Christmas, but that was before the vaccination rollout. Given the stunning success of our programme, the UK must also lead the world towards recovery and reimpose the Tier system.It is illogical that rural areas with low infection rates should be locked down as tightly as inner cities.
We must learn to live with this virus, adapting to future mutations, providing annual jabs for all, and maintaining social distancing and masks for as long as necessary.
Be brave, Boris! Unlock businesses and shops first, then focus on cultural and sporting venues. How much better would England have performed at Twickenham with a vociferous crowd behind them?
— to www.telegraph.co.uk