Widespread and effective vaccination against the COVID-19 virus remains the most likely way in which infection rates can be controlled sufficiently to allow current restrictions on our lives to be lifted, without putting the most vulnerable among us, and the NHS, at unacceptable risk. It is positive news then that the vaccination programme is off to a good start. As I write this, some 4 million people have been vaccinated nationwide, and that figure is likely to be several hundred thousand higher by the time you read it. The NHS is carrying out 140 injections a minute in what is the largest vaccination scheme the UK has ever attempted. Deciding who gets priority is bound to be difficult, but those judgments are being made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, not by politicians, and their decision to put first those likely to be most vulnerable to the virus makes sense. It means that the NHS is working through a list of priority categories, beginning with care home residents and their carers and the over 80s. To make sure that common sense is applied and vaccine is not wasted, this does not mean of course that every one of the over-80s must be vaccinated before anyone of lower priority groups, and vaccination of the over-70s has begun this week.
I know that not everyone in the first priority group has been reached yet but if you are in that position please do not worry. You should receive an appointment soon, and there is no need to call your GP, even if you know of someone in a lower priority group than you who has had the vaccine already. As you will know, second doses will no longer be administered within 3 weeks of the first, but instead within 12 weeks so that as many people as possible can be given the substantial protection the first dose offers, as soon as possible. The second dose you get will be of the same vaccine as the first dose you had. I have been keen to confirm with Ministers 2 other points. First, that if your vaccination appointment has been cancelled due to problems with vaccine delivery, it will be remade and you will be informed of the new date without you having to take further action, and second that if you have received a letter inviting you to make an appointment at the large vaccination centre in Birmingham and would prefer not to make the trip, then you don’t need to do anything and you can ignore the letter, your GP will still contact you to offer a more local appointment and invite you to attend somewhere more local instead. I have received reassurance on both points and that you will not go to the back of the queue in either case.
This is a worrying time for everyone, but it is clear to me that the NHS is putting in a huge effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Please be as understanding as you can of our medical professionals and the many volunteers supporting them in this mammoth task as they complete it as soon as they can and put us all in a much better position. They deserve all our thanks.