Boris Johnson was today warned that the Government has “one shot to get it right” with the Covid-19 vaccine programme and that it must be accessible to all communities across Britain.
After failings in the test-and-trace system, experts said ministers had to maintain the public’s trust that the vaccine is safe and effective.
They also emphasised that good access to the vaccine is crucial, including for black and ethnic minority communities and people from deprived backgrounds where the epidemic has hit hard.
Health chiefs are racing to get the NHS ready to roll out the vaccination from the start of December after Pfizer/BioNTech announced that their vaccine was 90 per cent effective, according to interim results. The news lifted hopes that the pandemic can be beaten and sent stock markets soaring.
However, the Government will now have to deliver an unprecedented vaccination programme at speed, if regulators give one or more vaccines approval, with up to a million jabs a week.
Dr Philippa Whitford MP, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on vaccinations for all, said: “It’s great to see progress with this vaccine but the Government has got one shot to get it right and must maintain the public’s trust in the safety and effectiveness of any Covid vaccine and fair access to them.”
In the latest developments today:
Dr David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation special envoy on Covid-19, said governments needed to show “total openness, honesty, transparency” when communicating with millions of people about the vaccine. Dr Nabarro, the co-director of Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation, also emphasised that it must be available to people regardless of wealth or background.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he had encouraged his mother to be ready to take a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible. He told a briefing: “I think the ‘mum test’ is very important here. My mum is 78, she will be 79 shortly, and I have already said to her, ‘mum, make sure when you are called you are ready, be ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age’.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, warned that the roll-out could overwhelm practices and delay other treatments unless they are given extra staff.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Imperial College London’s Covid-19 vaccine effort, said: “Vaccines are exceptionally safe medicines and they prevent really serious disease.”
Britain’s drugs regulator chief June Raine said: “Although we have adapted our processes to undertake our rigorous review of effectiveness and safety in a rolling way, there is absolutely no chance that we will compromise on standards of safety or effectiveness.”
Hopes rose about a range of vaccines being able to tackle Covid today when the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was said to be 92 per cent effective.
Layla Moran MP, chair of the all-party MPs group on Coronavirus, said the Government risked a third wave of the virus next year if it put too much store in the vaccine: “The virus is still not under control in the UK, yet alone suppressed.
Military chiefs are helping the NHS with the logistical operation to roll out a vaccine. On the anxiety among some people about having it, Dr Nabarro said: “The approach to communication on the Covid-19 vaccine issue must be very carefully thought-through globally, not just talking about Britain, so that there is total openness, honesty, transparency so that trust can be maintained.”