The first doses of the coronavirus vaccine have arrived from the Belgian laboratories to kick-start a mass Covid vaccination programme that has raising hopes of a return to some sort of normality by the spring of next year. The Government has secured 40 million doses of the vaccine, enough to treat 20 million people in the coming months. The PfizerBioNTech jab is likely to be speedily followed by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine that may be approved for NHS use by Christmas.
Health Minister Matt Hancock tells us that a successful rollout would mean lockdown restrictions could end before March. He says he “can't wait” to scrap the three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions and “get back to living by mutual respect and personal responsibility, not laws set in parliament”.
Well, we’ll wait and see. We’ve heard it all before from the Johnson government that gave us the shambolic “world-beating” track and trace system, the non-existent “oven-ready” Brexit deal with the European Union and the flawed “moon-shot” mass testing scheme that was supposed to reduce the need for social distancing.
Johnson’s track and trace system failed because it was simply not fit for purpose. Outsourcing it to private contractors caused huge problems while its’ centralised design too often by-passed local public health teams. We cannot afford to repeat this folly with the new vaccines.
The TUC is calling on the Government to take urgent steps to ensure the effective take up and delivery of the coronavirus vaccine. First of all local public health teams must be empowered to take the lead in co-ordination the vaccination programme. The supply chain must be improved through direct state intervention. The jabs must only be administered by trained health-care staff. National campaigns must be launched to encourage the public take up of the jab and build public confidence and trust in the anti-Covid operation.
The TUC argues that a high level of engagement and compliance will be essential for the vaccination programme to be successful and that trust and confidence in the vaccination system is most likely to be maximised by a system designed and led by public health professionals.
Meanwhile Richard Burgon, the secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, says: “After an incredibly bleak year, the coronavirus vaccines offer a ray of hope that 2021 can bring a return of something resembling normality. But it will be many months before the vaccines have been distributed widely. Until then, Labour needs to step up its opposition to force the government to adopt a new strategy. We can’t go on with months more of the government’s reckless approach. That has already led to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and one of the deepest downturns of any major economy”.
Inoculating virtually the entire population will, in any case, take us well into next year. At the moment the only way we can drive down the rate of infection is through the lockdowns and other public health measures that we’ve lived through for the best part of this year. If we want to avoid a dreaded winter “third wave” the emergency must continue and the Government must maintain and expand the furlough and business support schemes to stave of mass unemployment.