Gavin Williamson claims Britain’s lagging Covid vaccination drive ISN’T down to lack of jabs

Gavin Williamson has claimed coronavirus vaccine supply issues are not to blame for Britain’s roll-out suffering its worst slump in a month. 

The Education Secretary insisted today there was ‘no problem’ with deliveries of doses and said ‘there will always be some days’ when uptake dips lower. 

Figures show just 150,000 Covid vaccines jabs were dished out in the UK on Sunday, the worst daily output since the scheme began to pick up pace last month. And just 210,000 doses were administered on Monday, down by more than a quarter on the previous week.

Despite the concerning trend, Mr Williamson said he had ‘every confidence’ the mammoth NHS operation would be ‘rebounding back very shortly’. 

The comments contradicted Matt Hancock who revealed yesterday a European-wide vaccine supply shortage could lead to ‘quieter’ weeks ahead for Britain’s jab drive.  

One of the main problems is thought to be lower than expected output at manufacturing sites in AstraZeneca‘s supply chain on the continent. 

The British drugmaker, which manufactures Oxford University’s Covid jab, has told the European Union it will only be able to deliver less than half of its contracted supplies before summer, raising fears the UK’s orders could also be affected.  

Almost 18million Britons have already received a first dose of a Covid vaccine and Boris Johnson has put a successful jab roll-out at the heart of his lockdown-easing plan. 

As long as the operation continues successfully, all restrictions could be dropped in England by June 21, but any hiccups along the way could threaten that target.

The Government has pledged to offer first doses to all over-50s by April 15, with all remaining adults set to be reached by the end of July. 

Gavin Williamson has claimed there are no coronavirus vaccine supply issues after Britain’s roll out suffered its worst slump in a month

Figures show just 150,000 Covid vaccines jabs were dished out in the UK on Sunday, the worst daily output since the scheme began to pick up pace last month

Figures show just 150,000 Covid vaccines jabs were dished out in the UK on Sunday, the worst daily output since the scheme began to pick up pace last month

Nicola Sturgeon yesterday claimed stockpiling was partly to blame for the slowing down of the vaccination drive. 

Scotland’s First Minister claimed there had been a ‘temporary dip’ in supply during her daily press briefing. 

New hope for summer trips abroad in vaccine passport app

Holidaymakers could be offered a phone app ‘within weeks’ that would enable them to prove they have tested negative for Covid or been vaccinated.

The International Air Transport Association, which is in talks with the UK Government, yesterday revealed plans to go live with its digital Travel Pass next month.

The development is a boost to the millions of Britons hoping for a foreign holiday this summer after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a roadmap for reopening foreign travel on Monday.

Mr Johnson has asked a new taskforce to look into how holidays can safely be resumed, with ‘vaccine passports’ seen as one potential long-term measure. Popular holiday destinations such as Greece, Cyprus, Spain and the Canary Islands have already expressed interest in the idea.

IATA’s app will be capable of verifying if a passenger has had the Covid-19 tests or vaccines required to enter a country.

It would also prove they were administered by an approved authority and store the information on individual phones rather than in a centralised database to better protect privacy.

Vinoop Goel, IATA’s regional director of airports and external relations, said: ‘The key issue is one of confidence. Passengers need to be confident that the testing they’ve taken is accurate and will allow them to enter the country.

‘And then governments need to have the confidence that the tests passengers claim to have is one which is accurate and meets their own conditions.’

He added: ‘The plan is to go live in March, so basically we expect to have a fully functional working system over the next few weeks.’

IATA stressed the app would not be live for use next month as a ‘vaccine passport’, partly because Britain does not currently issue proof of vaccination in digital format.

But it is understood this is one of the issues being worked through by the new Department for Transport-led travel taskforce – raising the prospect of British holidaymakers using such an app this summer.

The UK’s vaccine credentials, which are currently given in paper format, would need to be ‘digitalised’, IATA said.

One way this could be done is if health authorities began issuing QR codes which could be scanned and uploaded into apps as proof that both doses of the vaccine had been given, along with information about where it was given, which jab was received and who it was administered by.

The industry sees digital passes as an essential part of reopening air travel, as many countries still have strict restrictions or quarantines, which could be lifted for those who can prove they have been inoculated.

Singapore Airlines was the first airline to start trials of the IATA Travel Pass in December. Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air New Zealand are among the others conducting trials.

Other airlines are also trialling different apps which could end up being used for ‘vaccine passports’.

British Airways is trialling one called VeriFLY and expanded the trial last week to cover all inbound flights to the UK, in addition to all outbound flights to the US. It is currently only used to verify a negative Covid test result.

But she also said the ‘need to reserve stock so that second doses can be offered to people who received their first dose in December’ was having an effect. 

No10’s top scientific advisers say it is crucial Britons get their top-up jab no later than 12 weeks after their first dose. 

The UK drew criticism in January when it pushed back giving second doses of both vaccines from three weeks to three months. 

The advice was made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Its goal was to get wider coverage more quickly. 

Government figures show another 1.8million second doses have to be dished out between now and April 11 to meet its 12-week second dose schedule. 

Around 2.4million Britons had received their first jab by January 11, when national daily figures were first released.  

Only 640,000 vulnerable Britons have so far had both inoculations, meaning some 1.8million still need to get their booster dose before April 11. 

Some will need to receive booster doses even sooner, if they were inoculated early on in the scheme, which began on December 8. 

With 46 days to go until April 11, it means around 40,000 doses per day have to be reserved for top-ups — if the rate is stable. 

Britain is currently dishing out 350,000 vaccines per day on average, meaning the second doses will soon take-up one-tenth of the current operation. 

Some local NHS chiefs are already working off their own agenda, with 15 per cent of over-70s in Portsmouth having already received their top-ups by February 14.

In contrast, rates are almost 300 times lower in Morecambe Bay, where just 0.05 per cent of elderly residents at the top of the queue have had both jabs. 

It came after AstraZeneca has told the European Union yesterday it would not be able to deliver on the EU’s vaccine orders amid supply issues.

The firm had committed to supplying the bloc with 180million doses in the second quarter of 2020.

But an EU official, involved directly in talks with the firm, said the company had warned it could now only ‘deliver less than 90million doses’, according to Reuters. 

Britain has ordered 100million doses of the Oxford vaccine and it is one of two Covid jabs being rolled out on the NHS. 

Asked about the EU official’s comment, a spokesman for AstraZeneca told Reuters yesterday: ‘We are hopeful that we will be able to bring our deliveries closer in line with the advance purchase agreement.’

Later in the day a spokesman in a new statement said the company’s ‘most recent Q2 forecast for the delivery of its COVID-19 vaccine aims to deliver in line with its contract with the European Commission.’

He added: ‘At this stage AstraZeneca is working to increase productivity in its EU supply chain and to continue to make use of its global capability in order to achieve delivery of 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter.’

A spokesman for the European Commission, which coordinates talks with vaccine manufacturers, said it could not comment on the discussions as they were confidential.

He said the EU should have more than enough shots to hit its vaccination targets if the expected and agreed deliveries from other suppliers are met, regardless of the situation with AstraZeneca.

The EU official confirmed that AstraZeneca planned to deliver about 40 million doses in the first quarter, again less than half the 90 million shots it was supposed to supply.

AstraZeneca warned the EU in January that it would fall short of its first-quarter commitments due to production issues.

It was also due to deliver 30 million doses in the last quarter of 2020 but did not supply any shots last year as its vaccine had yet to be approved by the EU.

All told, AstraZeneca’s total supply to the EU could be about 130 million doses by the end of June, well below the 300 million it committed to deliver to the bloc by then.

The arrival of fewer AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines in the European Union in the second quarter has been factored into Irish forecasts that were updated on Tuesday, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said after Reuters reported the shortfall.

The EU has also faced delays in deliveries of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna’s shot. So far they are the only vaccines approved for use by the EU’s drug regulator.

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi yesterday urged Britons to ‘keep the faith’, saying No10 ‘will deliver’ on its ambitious inoculation goals. 

The Government has pledged to offer first doses to all over-50s by April 15, with all remaining adults set to be reached by the end of July. 

Doctors risk disciplinary action if they refuse the vaccine

Doctors and healthcare staff have been told they risk being fired if they refuse to get vaccinated. 

NHS England’s medical director Steve Powis told staff they have a ‘professional responsibility’ to take the vaccine.   

Executives have moved towards making the jab obligatory for frontline NHS staff after England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty on Monday said it was health staff’s professional duty to be vaccinated.

But ministers are reluctant to introduce compulsory vaccination because they fear it would make reluctant staff less likely to accept one.

And health chiefs are divided on mandatory vaccination, with NHS bosses preferring professional leaders rather than managers to take the lead.

Employers have not been blocked from requiring staff to take the vaccine, with Boris Johnson praising ‘very high quality’ care homes that have made it a condition of employment.  

Medical unions have left the door open to making vaccination a condition of employment and have insisted staff should get the jab.

Chair of the British Medical Association council Dr Chaand Nagpaul told The Times: ‘We agree that doctors should have the Covid-19 vaccine unless they have a valid medical reason for not being vaccinated.

‘We will continue to encourage uptake of vaccinations but any proposal for a contractual or regulatory requirement for healthcare workers to have a Covid-19 vaccine would require careful scrutiny to consider the legal and ethical implications.’

The General Medical Council said ‘it is clear’ all doctors should be immunised against any transmissible disease, including Covid, unless there are good reasons why not. 

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said vaccination of staff is ‘plain common sense’.

Mr Zahawi echoed claims ministers have made repeatedly since the New Year that the only factor hampering the drive is supply, saying doses were ‘finite’. 

But he hinted that the roll-out could be about to be pick up pace again, after saying previously the UK would get tens of millions of doses in March. 

Matt Hancock also promised ‘bumper’ weeks next month. Supplies of Moderna’s Covid jab — which was approved in January — are set to come on stream within weeks, giving the NHS operation another boost. 

But Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said Britain will ‘struggle’ to get enough people immunised to stick to ambitious plans to end lockdown by June unless rates ‘pick up very soon’.

He said: ‘This could lead to more potentially vulnerable individuals being unprotected for a lot longer than we had expected as we try to relax restrictions further. 

‘This would have the real potential to derail the UK’s road plan for coming out of lockdown.’

Ministers have been urged to introduce door-to-door vaccinations to reach people who are unwilling or unable to go to GP surgeries.

Chief executive of the Runnymede Trust thinktank Dr Halima Begum told The Guardian members of the NHS army should outreach to people who have not come forward for the jab.

She said: ‘We would urge the government to take the jab door to door where necessary. 

‘Although there are a lot of vaccination centres in inner cities, a lot of elderly and immobile people are simply unable to get there.’

She said black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are particularly in danger of being left unvaccinated.

It comes amid debate over whether vaccines should be made mandatory for medical staff.  

NHS England’s medical director Steve Powis told staff they have a ‘professional responsibility’ to take the vaccine. 

Executives have moved towards making the jab obligatory for frontline NHS staff after England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty on Monday said it was health staff’s professional duty to be vaccinated.

But ministers are reluctant to introduce compulsory vaccination because they fear it would make reluctant staff less likely to accept one.

And health chiefs are divided on mandatory vaccination, with NHS bosses preferring professional leaders rather than managers to take the lead.

Employers have not been blocked from requiring staff to take the vaccine, with Boris Johnson praising ‘very high quality’ care homes that have made it a condition of employment.  

Medical unions have left the door open to making vaccination a condition of employment and have insisted staff should get the jab.

Chair of the British Medical Association council Dr Chaand Nagpaul told The Times: ‘We agree that doctors should have the Covid-19 vaccine unless they have a valid medical reason for not being vaccinated.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said healthcare workers have a 'professional responsibility' to take the vaccine

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said healthcare workers have a ‘professional responsibility’ to take the vaccine

‘We will continue to encourage uptake of vaccinations but any proposal for a contractual or regulatory requirement for healthcare workers to have a Covid-19 vaccine would require careful scrutiny to consider the legal and ethical implications.’

The General Medical Council said ‘it is clear’ all doctors should be immunised against any transmissible disease, including Covid, unless there are good reasons why not. 

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said vaccination of staff is ‘plain common sense’.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said there was a professional standard that staff should adhere to that involves not putting people in their care at risk.

NHS England has said around 88 per cent of patient-facing NHS Trust health care workers in England are likely to have had their first dose of a vaccine by now.

But there are no published vaccine uptake figures for people working in social care.

Asked how he feels about people working in the NHS or care homes who are refusing to have a jab, Prof Van-Tam told Good Morning Britain: ‘I agree with Professor (Chris) Whitty in that I think healthcare workers have always had a professional responsibility to take steps themselves to prevent them from being in a position where they could harm patients through infectious diseases they might have.

‘That’s been a very clear position on hepatitis B vaccine and performing invasive procedures, particularly surgery, for decades and decades.

‘And so I think that’s the professional standard that everybody ought to adhere to.

‘Now, the other way of framing this is saying, if you’re a consumer of healthcare, if you’re a patient or a relative, would you prefer a healthcare worker to attend you or your relative if they have been vaccinated against Covid, or would you not really mind either way?’

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