United Kingdom

Covid vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi denies jabs have been diverted from the North

Britain's Covid vaccine minister has denied claims that jabs are being diverted from the North to areas lagging behind in the over-80s rollout.

Nadhim Zahawi insisted Yorkshire - which is leading the race - would still receive its fair share, dismissing allegations from a Labour MP yesterday that the region was being punished for reaching the most elderly Britons. 

'Yorkshire's allocation this week is 13 per cent,' he tweeted. 'Next week it is 13 per cent.

'We have less vaccine because supply remains a challenge. Yorkshire as I said to local BBC tonight will get its allocation to be able to meet the target of offering the most vulnerable by mid-February.'

Britain's vaccine rollout hit the rate of 200 jabs a minute on Wednesday, putting the Government on track to hit its target of inoculating 13.9million by mid-February.

Yorkshire and the North East are leading the race after getting the first dose to 64 per cent of over-80s - or 220,000 - followed by the North West at 60 per cent and South West at 57 per cent.

But official NHS data published yesterday unmasked a huge postcode lottery in the rollout, with coverage generally higher in rural areas than towns and cities.

It comes after a study yesterday claimed herd immunity - where enough people can fight off the virus stopping it from spreading - could not be achieved in the UK because too many people would refuse the vaccine and there were no plans to give jabs to schoolchildren. 

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi blasted claims supplies were being diverted

The vaccines minister issued the stark rebuttal after Jon Trickett, the Labour MP for Hemsworth, West Yorkshire, accused the Government of 'punishing' Yorkshire for its rapid vaccination drive. 

'Why do we have to be held back? I don't get it,' he told the Yorkshire Post.

'Once again, the North has excelled and once again the North is being punished for problems in the South.'

He added: 'I don't believe we're that far ahead. There are patches within Yorkshire that will have fallen behind and this will mean they fall even further behind.'

Jonathan Van-Tam's mother gets Covid jab 

The 79-year-old mother of England's deputy chief medical officer has had her coronavirus vaccination.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has previously spoken about encouraging his mother, Elizabeth Van-Tam, to be ready to receive the vaccine when she got the call.

Prof Van-Tam, who said his mother calls him 'Jonny', said he had told her it was 'really important' to get the jab 'because you are so at risk'.

She had her vaccination on Thursday at a GP surgery in Whittlesey, six miles east of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

Ms Van-Tam, who turned 79 this month, said afterwards: 'I was really happy to get my Covid-19 vaccine.

'While I’ve had lots of reminders from Jonathan, I needed no encouragement when I received my phone call.

'The jab didn’t hurt at all and the NHS staff were excellent.

'I would encourage everyone to take up the offer when it comes.' 

Ms Van-Tam pictured getting her vaccine

Official figures reveal that across England 56 per cent of all over-80s have received their first does of the coronavirus vaccine.

But London is lagging behind with 48 per cent - or 150,000 - of its elderly residents vaccinated, alongside the East of England at 51 per cent - or 191,000 jabs - and the South East at 55 per cent or 289,000.

England has steamed ahead of Northern Ireland - where 44 per cent of over-80s have got their first dose, Wales, at 24 per cent, and Scotland trailing at 13 per cent.

The health secretary Matt Hancock said this week that vaccine supplies would be diverted to areas struggling to keep pace with the operation.

Stocks are thought to have initially been distributed by GP networks, rather than the number of people. 

This means that surgeries with fewer patients have been able to vaccinate a higher proportion while those with more - typically in London - have got fewer jabs per patient. 

Revealing Britain's postcode lottery, official figures showed medics in Cumbria and the North East have handed out 10 times more vaccines than those in Shropshire, the figures show.

And an impressive 10 per cent of the population in Gloucestershire have had a jab already, compared to just 3.6 per cent of East Londoners. Herefordshire and Worcestershire also managed to immunise one in 10 of their residents by January 17. 

The 10 areas most advanced in their rollout have managed to immunise 71 per cent of their over-80s already, with Gloucestershire the highest at 85 per cent. For comparison, the worst-performing areas, mostly in London, had managed fewer than half by January 17.

Rural areas tend to have higher average ages among their residents and more elderly people, which may give them access to more vaccine doses to distribute, while inner cities will have to wait until younger people become eligible.

Boris Johnson has warned achieving the February target will be 'very hard' but it has emerged today that No10 is only aiming to 'offer' the jabs to that number of people and it won't declare failure if they aren't all delivered on time. 

Government sources admit not everyone will take up the invitation, with polls indicating that a fifth of the population might refuse.

It comes after experts said yesterday the UK would not achieve herd immunity because it wouldn't be able to vaccinate 82 per cent of its population - the threshold they said was required to stop the disease from spreading.

The scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) said vaccine hesitancy and the decision not to offer jabs to under-18s would only bring the UK's R value - the rate at which the virus spreads - to 1.3, meaning the virus would continue to spread.

They found only if everyone received Pfizer's jab could herd immunity be achieved - which studies suggest is more effective than Oxford's - but only if teenagers were also inoculated. The jab is currently only approved for over-16s.

Scientists have always known eradicating Covid was an impossible task and the goal of the vaccine programme is not to prevent all transmission from occurring.

Professor Matt Keeling, an epidemiologist from the University of Warwick, said: 'If we've given people their first dose by February 15, that’s not going to give that much protection.' He warned the most 'optimistic' outcome would be for 'some' restrictions to be lifted in May. 

Dr Marc Baguelin, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London who was also involved in the modelling, claimed that easing lockdown before then would cause a spike 'that is really bad'. 

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