There has been a lot in the media about the vaccination programmes both at home and abroad over the last few weeks. I will turn to the latter later but at a more local level, there has been significant progress since I last wrote. On 15th January I was delighted to attend the opening of the first vaccine centre in NW Leics at Measham Leisure Centre. Whilst this was later in opening than other Districts in Leicestershire, it is one of the larger centres and capable of vaccinating 500 people a day, 7 days a week. This has ensured that over 10,000 residents have now been vaccinated from the top 4 priority groups. In addition to this, all care home residents and staff have now received their jabs.
This is excellent news and puts us well on track to meet the mid-February target to vaccinating the priority groups both locally and nationally. I would like to thank all those working in the centre and the volunteers who are acting as marshals and keeping it as smooth an operation of possible. Doctor Arum, who is my own doctor, has been doing a fine job with the organisation of the vaccine rollout. I am still pushing for further sites to open in the district as we roll out the vaccine to other groups and to provide the booster jabs in due course.
On the subject of the booster jabs, I know there has been a lot of concern about the gap between the initial jab and the booster. To explain this position, Moving to a 12-week gap between vaccinations is a public health approach centred on doing as much good for as many people in the shortest possible timeframe. The short term efficacy for the Pfizer vaccine is around 90 per cent, and around 70 per cent for the Oxford vaccine of not contracting Covid 19, however the effect of both vaccines is almost 100% protection from serious illness three weeks after vaccination if exposed to the virus.
Exploratory analysis has shown that a longer dose interval may actually increase immunogenicity from the Oxford vaccine, and while Pfizer has not evaluated an alternative dosing schedule, the Moderna vaccine, which uses the same MRNA technology, has data to support high efficacy up to 108 days after the first dose.
At present, it is my understanding from senior figures in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that there is no real evidence that a quicker follow up dose than is being rolled out in the UK would be more effective. Rather, it is their hope that the current strategy of getting more people immunised and protecting the vulnerable and elderly will save thousands and thousands of lives.
Turning to the more broader point on vaccinations, because of the early ordering and wide vaccine portfolio the Government put together, we have been world leaders at rolling out the vaccine and have vaccinated more people than any other European Country by quite some distance. Recent weeks have shown the benefits of being out of the bureaucratic protectionist bloc that is the EU, because what is more important to the EU commission than the health and survival of the citizens it purports to serve, is now about the very survival of the EU structure itself.
The EU commission might not be very good at protecting the health and wellbeing of the EU citizenry , but when it comes to protecting the EU institution itself, they are masters and the alarm bells are ringing louder than they have ever before in Brussels.
The political deflection of blame by the EU has been rapid ,coordinated, clinical and ruthless. The EU needs someone to blame and who better than the British-Swedish Company AstraZeneca and the UK Government. We have seen the EU through its outriders such as President Macron and the German Health Department casting false assertions about the efficacy of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines for over the 65’s, which is completely contradicted by not only the science, but also the fact that the EU are demanding that despite not having a binding contract, that they get delivery of 100m doses almost immediately of the British vaccine they claim is defective!
The panicked EU have indicated that they will block exports of vaccines manufactured within the EU and also for a few hours before a politically forced back-track activated Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, placing restrictions on the Irish border.
I wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in early December urging him to use our £10bn foreign aid budget to provide vaccines to developing countries who have not been able to secure access to the vaccine. I was not expecting the list to include the relatively wealthy nations of the European Union. I appeared on Irish Radio and television this week in the face of the crisis and stated that it was clearly in the UK interest to help the Republic of Ireland wherever we could as they are our closest neighbours and the only country with which we have a land border, but unfortunately as they are in the EU and have given powers over vaccines to the Commission in Brussels, that it was unlikely they would allow us to supply them directly with our surplus vaccine, we will see in the weeks ahead.
I believe that unfortunately for Vaccine Nationalism reasons and its own pride, the EU did not ever want to use or even authorise for use the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. The EU has put most of its efforts and hopes into the two French vaccines in development, namely the Merck vaccine developed by the Pasteur Institute and the Sanofi vaccine, both of these have failed at trials with Merck research being abandoned this week and at the same time it being announced that due to problems in clinical trials the Sanofi vaccine could not be in production for at least another 10 months. These setbacks have left the EU short of viable vaccines, scrabbling about and politically exposed to criticism.
We in the UK have a moral duty to help all other nations with vaccine and vaccinations. Because the fact is that none of us are fully protected until all of us are fully protected, but as it says in the airliners “In the case of an emergency ensure that your own mask is fully fitted before trying to help others”, We need to keep calm and keep vaccinating.