Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford came under fire from MPs today for deliberately slowing down the country’s Covid vaccine roll-out.
Mr Drakeford this morning admitted Wales isn’t using up all of its doses of the Pfizer jab because it wants to make them last until the end of the month.
He claimed the ‘sensible’ thing to do would be to ration supplies so the programme could work steadily until next month and so staff aren’t ‘standing around with nothing to do’ if supplies run out.
But MPs have slammed his plan as ‘dangerous’ and said the point of the programme is to protect elderly people from dying not to keep NHS staff busy.
David Jones, MP for Clwyd West said the explanation was ‘wholly incoherent’.
Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border, said it was ‘dangerous’ and that people needed vaccines as soon as was possible.
And Stephen Crabb, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said it was ‘deeply, deeply frustrating’.
The Government – including Mr Drakeford in the same interview – have blamed limited supply from manufacturers for slowing down the roll-out of vaccines, which it is hoped could bring an end to the UK’s relentless cycle of lockdowns.
Britain has so far immunised nearly 3.9million people – Wales has done the fewest in relation to its population size with a total of 126,375.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines the country has must last until February so is being used up more slowly than the Oxford jab, sparking fury from Conservative MPs in Wales
A woman is pictured getting a coronavirus vaccination at a medical centre in Cardiff
FEARS OF POSTCODE LOTTERY ACCESS TO JABS IN ENGLAND
Boris Johnson is facing a backlash over a ‘postcode lottery’ in vaccinations today as millions of 70-somethings are offered jabs – even though some older people have yet to get theirs.
Another five million people are being invited to receive their first dose, with some in Whitehall suggesting the rollout is going so well that the wider population could be covered by June rather than September.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was bullish about the longer date in a round of interviews this morning, and also struck an optimistic tone about the prospects of easing lockdown from early March.
However, he also risked fuelling fears about a lack of fairness by confirming that people in their 70s will only be offered jabs in areas where ‘the majority’ of over-80s have already had their first shot. That could disadvantage areas such as London and Suffolk, where progress has been slower.
Meanwhile, all care home residents and most of their carers have already had their first shot in Newcastle, but the NHS-led programme in rural Suffolk is struggling to speed up. And a GP surgery in Kent has had to pause its vaccination because of supply problems.
Cabinet minister Therese Coffey complained this morning that in her constituency some individuals in their 70s were being offered jabs ahead of the more elderly. ‘Vaccinations started well in Suffolk Coastal in the last few days, but something isn’t quite right as in some places, patients aged 70+ are being contacted for vaccination ahead of 80+/90+ year olds,’ she tweeted. ‘Am following up with local NHS.’
Mr Zahawi also had to reassure the public that all second doses of vaccines will be given within 12 weeks of the first – after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refused to confirm yesterday that would be the case.
The wrangling came as letters started going out to people in England in the next two priority groups.
That includes 4.6million in their 70s plus another one million classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ because they have conditions affecting the immune system, certain cancers or are organ transplant recipients.
In London vaccinations have been trailing behind the rest of the country, with Tory MPs voicing alarm that the supplies were being based on take-up of the flu vaccine last winter.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Drakeford said: ‘We’re using all the Oxford vaccine that we’re getting as we get it.
‘The Pfizer vaccine that we have has to last us until the beginning of February. We won’t get another delivery of that until the very end of January or, probably, the beginning of February.
‘There will be no point and, certainly, it will be logistically very damaging to try to use all of that in the first week and then to have all our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do with for another month.
‘The sensible thing to do is to use the vaccine you’ve got over the period that you’ve got it for so that your system can absorb it, they can go on working, that you don’t have people standing around with nothing to do.
‘We will use all the vaccine we have in the time that we have it for and, as more comes on track, we will use all of that as well.
‘We will vaccinate all four priority groups by the middle of February, alongside everywhere else in the UK.’
Labour MP Mr Drakeford’s comments immediately sparked a backlash from Conservative MPs who said it was the wrong way to go about the programme.
Lockdown rules across the UK are likely to stay in place until all of the 13.9million people in the four most vulnerable categories have been vaccinated against Covid.
Key to bringing them to an end and preventing the tide of deaths is vaccinating the population as quickly as is physically possible.
Ministers have come under intense scrutiny over how the roll-out could be sped up, with the issue – nationally, at least – boiling down to how fast the manufacturers Pfizer and AstraZeneca can get the doses delivered.
But it is now emerging that the infrastructure in some parts of the UK is slowing down how quickly the jabs can be used up.
Statistically, Wales is behind the other nations of the UK in delivering the first dose of the vaccine per 100,000.
As of last week, 3,215 per 100,000 had received it in Wales, compared to 3,514 in Scotland, 4,005 in England and 4,828 in Northern Ireland.
Mr Drakeford dismissed the statistics as ‘very marginal differences’.
On Mr Drakeford’s willful slowing down of the programme, MP David Jones said: ‘Mr Drakeford on [Radio 4] still refusing to deploy the Pfizer vaccine as quickly as possible, and giving a wholly incoherent explanation for the delay. Unbelievable.’
In an earlier tweet on Friday Mr Jones had said: ‘Mr Drakeford does understand, I suppose, that in a pandemic a vaccine is actually supposed to be used? It’s not meant to be saved up for a rainy day.’
Stephen Crabb said in a BBC interview: ‘[Constituents] hear in UK media that around 50 per cent of over-80s have now been vaccinated in England, but we are nowhere near that rate in Wales because of the decision the Welsh Government took to prioritise vaccinations of frontline NHS and social care staff, and really to make the over-80s a second order priority.
‘We’re now, today, hearing the First Minister of Wales has got this sort of go-slow strategy to try and evenly spread out the vaccination doses.
‘He said that the vaccination programme isn’t a sprint – well many, many people in Wales will be gobsmacked by that because this thing is absolutely a sprint.
‘The faster we get the most vulnerable people vaccinated, the more lives that will be saved and the faster we can get out of these awful lockdown restrictions.’
Wale’s shadow health minister and MP for Senedd, Andrew R.T. Davies said: ‘Whether intended or not, this outburst of honesty from the First Minister tells the Welsh people all they need to know.
‘The Welsh Labour Government is failing to deliver its vaccine programme.
‘His shocking doubling-down on his decision to delay deployment of Pfizer vaccine supplies is dangerous, and makes no clinical sense whatsoever.
‘We need to get these vaccinations into people’s arms ASAP. Lives and livelihoods across Wales are at stake.’