Sajid Javid must get a grip on jabs shambles and fire up the boosters

Sajid Javid must get a grip on jabs shambles and fire up the boosters

October 23, 2021

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Sajid Javid must get a grip on jabs shambles and fire up the boosters

With all the slowness, juddering and hesitation of an ancient bus trying to start on a frosty morning, the Government is at last moving to do something about the failure of the Covid booster programme. We have to be pleased that it is trying, but it should certainly try a great deal harder. Much depends on it.

As long as we can keep vaccination protection high, the danger of a renewed virus crisis overwhelming our hospitals is much diminished, and so is the danger of yet another grim lockdown closing down the country in the winter months.

Perhaps Ministers are just too preoccupied with their green agenda, driven by the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, now just a week away. No doubt we must do all we can in the great task of saving the planet, but this does not mean that governments can forget the normal day-to-day tasks of keeping people healthy, safe and prosperous.

At the beginning, Britain’s vaccination programme was a superb example of all that is best about this Government. The research was world-beating, fast and brilliant.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid pictured during a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on October 20

The launch was bold and beautifully organised, and the near-universal take-up by vulnerable citizens stopped Covid in its tracks. Just as crucially, the Government had secured its supplies so that there was always enough to meet demand. We showed the EU and the world how such a project could be pursued.

Dame Kate Bingham, her able lieutenant Emily Lawson (now happily back at work on the booster programme) and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi together gave a textbook example of what government can do when it really tries. They took the view that problems could always be solved if you really wanted to solve them, rather than the traditional Civil Service view that problems are an excuse for failure.

Since this team broke up, Whitehall seems to have sunk back into its default position of Not Very Good, combined with Not Very Fast. This just will not do. Now is not the time to slacken off. It is hard to overstate just how much this success achieved. We owe our return to normal, or at least nearly normal, almost entirely to the taming effect that vaccination has had on the virus.

So as the effect of the spring and summer vaccinations fades, as it is bound to do, we must act. Yet the figures are dire. Just 1.3 million of the 2.3 million over-80s who qualify for a booster have so far received one.

A nurse administers a dose of a Pfizer booster vaccine to a member of the public at a vaccination centre in Derby on September 20

The authorities accept that 2.4 million eligible people have not yet been invited for a booster jab. The plan to vaccinate schoolchildren is also severely bogged down despite growing evidence, which we report today, that this could make a major contribution to keeping Covid under control.

Whose fault is this? When the Government blames the people for the failings of its policies, you can always be sure that it is the Government that is in the wrong. Yet Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said last week there is ‘plenty of capacity’ and other officials cited alleged public complacency as a key factor in the slow take-up.

Really? We will see how complacent people are when it becomes easier to make vaccination appointments, a move now promised by the Government.

There is a lot here for the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, to take charge of.

He has surely had time to accustom himself to his new responsibilities. Let him now show his paces.

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