A POLITICAL row has broken out over reports that vaccine supplies will be slashed in Yorkshire and the North East to boost areas which have made less progress in the rollout.
Conservative MP Philip Davies accused Labour Council leaders of seeking to make “political capital” over the issue after they called on the Government to “reverse the decision”.
The reports first surfaced on Thursday in the Health Service Journal, which said “well-placed sources” in the region had been told there would be around 100,000 doses available next week for its centres run by GP practices, down from about 200,000 this week.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi denied vaccines would be diverted, but when asked to repeat the denial today, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said over-80s would continue to be prioritised and it “will ensure the areas that need more in order to increase those percentages can receive it, while ensuring that we provide vaccine doses to all areas of the country”.
Both Shipley MP Philip Davies, and Imran Hussain, Labour MP for Bradford East, said they had been told in a meeting with regional health bosses on Thursday that the supply would not be halved.
However, Mr Hussain said there was still “confusion and a lack of clarity” on the issue and he had written to the vaccines minister for assurances that the supply of vaccines in Bradford will not be reduced, and to ask for guarantees that no one who has been invited for a vaccination will have their appointment cancelled.
Speaking on Friday’s Radio 4 Today show, Dr Nikita Kanani, director of primary care at NHS England, appeared to confirm that vaccines would be diverted when asked about it, with a specific reference to Yorkshire and the North East.
She said while supply is constrained “we need to make sure that goes to the areas where people are not vaccinated”.
This afternoon, leaders of the five West Yorkshire councils, urged the Government to reverse the decision to “halve the allocation of vaccine to West Yorkshire” and divert it to other areas as it would cause anxiety both for those waiting to be vaccinated and “already stretched NHS staff”.
The joint statement added: "It also risks widening the health inequalities that this pandemic has exposed and which have not been properly addressed in the vaccine rollout programme.
“The Prime Minister has described the vaccination programme as a ‘race against time’ but our region will struggle to win that race if we cannot have certainty that vaccine deliveries will happen on the promised schedule and in the expected quantities. If some parts of the country are progressing at a slower rate, the answer should be to support those areas, not to penalise those that are delivering faster.
“We strongly urge the Government to reverse this decision and to focus on working with the vaccine manufacturers to address the supply issue that is at the core of this problem.”
Mr Davies said he had spoken to the Minister this afternoon and he had “reiterated to me that this wasn’t true”.
“He told me that our region received 13 per cent of the vaccine supply across the country this week and will receive 13 per cent of the supply next week,” he said.
“I am not surprised that Labour Council leaders are seeking to make political capital but am still disappointed that they are prepared to unduly worry vulnerable people to do so.
“The NHS in this region have confirmed that they are on track to ensure all those in the top priority groups will be vaccinated by mid February as was the target.”
Meanwhile, Mr Hussain has urged the Government to include frontline voluntary and third sector workers in the high-priority groups set to receive the Covid-19 vaccine to protect these key workers and those they support.
He said: “Voluntary and third sector workers have proven what heroes they are by keeping food banks running, continuing to protect those who’ve fled domestic violence and maintaining essential services, and we must ensure that the vital role that they play in supporting those who are in need does not break down.
“However, a significant challenge to this is the fact that frontline voluntary and third sector workers are still having to interact with the public on a daily basis in order to provide this support, which is putting both workers and those that they are supporting, many of whom are already vulnerable, at risk from Covid-19.
“The Government, therefore, needs to not only ensure that the voluntary and third sector have all the PPE necessary to reduce the risk of infection, but must include these often-forgotten frontline workers in the high-priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccine as it is rolled out across the country to give them lasting protection.”