Cuts to the North East’s supply of Covid-19 vaccines are “really disappointing”, one of the region’s top public health officials has said.
It emerged on Thursday that the number of vaccines being sent to GPs in the North East and Yorkshire is to be slashed next week, with deliveries redirected to areas that have vaccinated a smaller percentage of the most vulnerable people.
Prof Eugene Milne, Newcastle’s director of public health, said it was a “great shame” that the region was not being allowed to continue or even accelerate the pace of its vaccine rollout after its early success.
The North East and Cumbria is said to have vaccinated more than 70% of people aged over 80, the fifth highest in the country, whereas some areas have given doses to fewer than half.
Local politicians reacted with fury to the news on Thursday, claiming the region was being punished for its success.
Prof Milne said: “It is very disappointing that we are not able to just keep motoring away at this, because of the great work that has been done principally by the NHS.
“It is really disappointing that we aren’t able to keep going at the pace we have been going or even accelerating.
“I don’t have an insight into what the supply is like in terms of distribution nationally, so I can’t really comment on that.
“I do understand the need to get to the highest priority target groups as quickly as possible, but I think it is a great shame we are not able to progress down those groups having got so far in the region at this stage.
“I am slightly cautious because I don’t have the full facts in terms of distribution. I don’t know what the formula was for the allocation of vaccines to different regions, that has not been shared with me. I don’t know whether we got more than the share that we would have expected from the outset.
“But if we were just getting it according to a formula, then I would have preferred very much if we just carried on with that kind of distribution.”
While Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the rollout of the vaccine needs to be “fair” across the country, critics have pointed out that people in more deprived areas like the North East have been proven to be at greater risk of dying from Covid.
Prof Milne added: “I certainly think there is an issue about taking into account the additional risk that is associated with deprivation and so on across the country.
“But because they [Government] have not shared with us the allocation formula for vaccines, I don’t know whether our progress has been because we have been better at getting it to the right people or whether it is because we had more vaccines to give them. I am slightly reserving judgement because of that.”
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi denied that vaccines would be moved from Yorkshire and the North East to help other regions in England.
But NHS England’s top GP, Dr Nikki Kanani, has confirmed the shift. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I understand my colleagues’ frustration, particularly in the northern areas.
“They have done an incredible job getting through their top priority cohorts - the over-80s and health and social care staff.
“And so while we have supply that is constrained, we need to make sure that in the areas where people are not vaccinated, our priority is to make sure the top priority groups are vaccinated as soon as possible.
“So we need to target our deliveries to make sure they are going to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the top priority cohorts.”