Two months and six days after the first needle went into the arm of Margaret Keenan, a 91-year old lady living in Coventry, the Government confirmed that the United Kingdom had reached its target of vaccinating 15 million people. One day ahead of schedule.
At the time of writing we have vaccinated 23.7% of our adult population and rank first in the world for any country with a population of more than 10 million people. Moreover, the first four priority groups covered by this total (care home residents and staff, front line health and social care workers and everyone over the age of 70) account for 88% of all Covid deaths. A huge proportion of those who are most vulnerable to the virus now have their first layer of protection against it.
The GP surgeries operating out of Newbury Racecourse reached almost everyone in their first four priority groups by the 11th February (with a very small number booked in this week for various reasons) – exactly one month after doors opened. In fact, the most striking thing about volunteering there last Friday afternoon were the sprightly 60-somethings arriving for their vaccinations in contrast to the very elderly residents who had attended on day one. Its success is a testament to so much that we hold dear in West Berkshire: the commitment of NHS staff, our community spirit, the energy and enthusiasm of so many volunteers rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. Without all of those who have spent hours, days and weeks making it run like clockwork we couldn’t have done it and I pay tribute to each of them.
Of course, there is more to do. To start with everyone needs to go round again for a second jab. And after the next five groups are vaccinated there will be difficult questions of priority to consider. However, it is worth noting the comment of Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, on a call with MPs last week. He told us that a key reason why the vaccination operation has progressed so quickly is because of the simplicity of primarily deciding priority by age. It must be recognised that any different method, for example according priority according to the nature of employment - will also affect speed of the rollout.
Moreover we cannot afford to be complacent about take up. So far, around 90% of those offered the vaccination in West Berkshire have accepted. But as we progress through those of working age, we know that the risk of vaccine hesitancy grows, particularly among certain age groups and demographics. Doctors across West Berkshire have been producing videos and information to dispel myths, and organisations like Community United have been convening online events with doctors speaking to build community confidence. This is vital work since the overall success of the vaccination programme depends on continued high participation and we all have a role to play.
But even if we are not there yet, the weather is miserable and we are in a third national lockdown, this is genuine news to lift the spirits.