The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign is beginning to show signs of strain as some areas struggle to keep pace with the speedy rollout seen in other parts of the country.
Boris Johnson pledged yesterday that areas that have raced ahead in vaccinating people aged over 80 will be allowed to begin inviting over-70s to get the jabs from this week. But The Times reports that vaccine stocks are to “be diverted to areas falling behind on vaccinating the over-80s, amid concerns about regional disparities in the programme”.
The first ministers of Scotland and Wales are also facing questions over why both countries are lagging behind England in making jabs available.
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Shot in the dark
Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised yesterday that people in the oldest age group who have yet to be inoculated would be contacted within the next four weeks.
“I want to say to anybody who is aged over 80 but hasn’t yet had their jab, we will reach you,” Hancock said during a televised Downing Street briefing.
However, government data reveals that the speed of the vaccination rollout varies significantly between regions, ranging from more than than 10% in the Southwest NHS area to just 4% in the Northeast and Yorkshire.
The West Midlands is streaking ahead in the vaccination race and had administered 746,487 Covid jabs as of yesterday. But London - now the epicentre of coronavirus cases in the UK - and the east of England are falling behind, with just 417,225 and 424,135 respectively.
“Many vaccine centres are being told that they will not get further supplies because they are ahead of other areas,” The Times reports. “Some have had to cease all vaccinations this week because doses that they were expecting are being sent elsewhere.”
Hancock said yesterday that the government was “prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s, but we don’t want to stop the areas that have effectively done that job already”.
As the newspaper notes, “it is unclear whether areas with many over-80s still to be reached should start on younger patients”.
Government figures show that Wales currently has the lowest vaccination rate in the UK. First Minister Drakeford is facing warnings that lives will be lost “after he said the country was deliberately slowing down the country's Covid vaccine rollout” in order to ration supplies, the Daily Mail reports.
Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday that “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.
“We have to use that over that six-week stretch. It would be logistically very damaging to try and use all of that in the first week, and then to have all our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do for another month.”
Further north, Nicola Sturgeon is also “facing mounting anger over Scotland’s slow vaccine rollout”, The Telegraph reports. The Scottish first minister is under attack “after it emerged her government has more than 400,000 unused doses and England's deployment was almost twice as fast last weekend”, says the paper.
Regional disparities in the speed of the vaccination campaign are also being fuelled by issues that are unrelated to the number of vaccine doses available.
MPs last week warned that lives are being “put at risk” by difficulties delivering vaccination invitations, after Royal Mail published a list of 28 areas experiencing “limited deliveries due to resourcing issues”.
And an investigation by The Telegraph revealed that mail was not being delivered regularly in an additional 30 areas. A Royal Mail source told the paper that “staff have been instructed to look out for the vaccine invitations, which are identified by an NHS logo, so they can be prioritised during the sorting process”.
A official spokesperson said that the reduced services were being caused by “higher volumes of mail during the lockdown, the ongoing impact of Covid-related staff absences, and necessary social distancing measures at local mail centres and delivery offices”.
Despite those tough operating conditions, MPs have called for Royal Mail to rectify issues with delivering the NHS invitations, as fears rise “that elderly residents will not receive notifications of when a coronavirus vaccine is available to them”, ITV reports.
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