England’s health bosses should not ‘take eye off ball’ on Covid jab rollout, say MPs


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Health chiefs overseeing England’s Covid-19 vaccination programme must beware of taking “their eye off the ball”, the House of Commons public accounts committee said on Wednesday, warning that almost 3mn people are yet to receive a single Covid shot.

After jabs were approved in December 2020, the UK had one of the fastest vaccine rollouts anywhere in the world. Nine out of 10 adults had received at least two doses of vaccine by May 2019. Since the immediate, however, CovidThe MPs stated that although the crisis was less severe, there was still a risk that immunization may not be considered a priority.

The committee that monitors public spending said that 2.98mn people in England had not been vaccinated by May 31st. Another 1.5mn had received only one dose. The committee reported that 73% of adults had received a booster shot for the first time, which was available to all.

The report stated that many people who live in urban areas are young, and only five cities account for more than a quarter.

Meg Hillier, committee chair, praised “the enormous effort by those who developed, secured and administered our Covid vaccines”, but she added: “It’s important that the early success does not mean that the department [of health] and NHS England take their eye off the ball in tackling future challenges and getting vaccines to hard to reach groups.”

The MPs indicated that low take-up was due to factors such as age and ethnicity. The MPs found that only 55% of 16- and 17-year-olds had received two doses of the drug by May’s end, while 38% of 12-15-year-olds had received one. They noted that only 58% of pregnant women had received two doses by February.

People of Pakistani, black British and British origin were significantly less likely to have received booster shots as compared to people of white British heritage. Fresh approaches were needed to tackle “the persistent low uptake observed in some ethnic groups”, the committee said.

Particular challenges related to vaccinating people with learning disabilities, which “have not always been consistently or adequately addressed”, it added.

The PAC said NHS England had built on approaches recommended by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the World Health Organization “to achieve the impressive uptake to date”. 

But since the country was “no longer in a state of emergency and other issues have eclipsed COVID-19 in the news, vaccination is now worryingly a lower priority for many people”, it added.

There were also concerns about whether there would be enough staff and vaccine sites to support the programme. NHS England had started planning for a reduction in vaccine sites and staffing for the rest of 2022 in anticipation of lower overall demand, “but it is not yet clear how its strategy will strike the right balance between maintaining high levels of vaccination uptake and ensuring that demands on healthcare staff are sustainable”, the PAC said.

The MPs also questioned the government’s decision to centre the booster programme on just two companies: Moderna and Pfizer.

The Department of Health and Social Care and the Vaccine Taskforce “should urgently review the future procurement strategy for Covid-19 vaccines, seeking all necessary clinical and commercial expertise, to ensure that future contracts are not let to too narrow a set of providers”, they said.

The government said it was “working hard to reach those people who are still unvaccinated against Covid, including using walk-in and mobile vaccination clinics to increase access and convenience, and providing messages from trusted voices — such as faith and community leaders — to diverse people to get the vaccine”.

NHS England had already begun preparations “to ensure they are ready to deploy Covid vaccines to those eligible as part of an autumn Covid booster programme to ensure protection is maintained ahead of winter”, it added.


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