“What’s the point in them vaccinating you if you can still spread Covid. They even want you to wear a mask all this year!”, said one comment I read on social media.
Well, this may not be true! Last week, an Oxford-led study showed the Astrazeneca vaccine may have a “substantial” effect on transmission of the virus. The vaccine cut the number of cases with detectable virus by 67% after a single standard dose. If this conclusion is backed up by peer review, ongoing PHE surveillance and data from the rollout in Israel, it could be game changing for when the government sets out an initial plan on 22nd February to lift lockdown.
11 million people are already vaccinated in the UK and 204,815 have been vaccinated in Devon. They are not only keeping themselves safe. They could also be helping to bring cases rapidly down. Younger age groups could be safer when restrictions are relaxed.
Before we know for sure on transmission, it’s worth remembering the vaccination programme is designed to save lives and protect particularly those most clinically vulnerable against becoming seriously ill in hospital with the virus. This frees up space for the healthcare staff at the RD&E and community hospitals to continue to provide outstanding diagnosis, treatment and care for those who need it.
I really appreciated the invite to see the effort at the East Devon vaccination site at Exmouth Tennis Centre last week. The superb NHS team and army of volunteers are doing an incredible job to help make East Devon safer. I’ve heard nothing but praise from those who have been, as with the new mass vaccination site at Westpoint.
No other UK region has reached more of its over 80s than the South West. And in Devon, 92% of the 80+ population have had a first dose. At the time of writing, 73% of the 75-79 group in Devon have had the jab as the over 70s are being invited to come forward.
Recently, we saw the EU attempt to put the brakes on our plans, risking the rollout of the vaccines here in the UK. I’m glad they quickly realised their mistake and rowed back swiftly. The EU has its own supply chains for member states and this is a commercial issue for AstraZeneca and the European Commission to resolve.
Ministers are confident the supply of vaccines to the UK will not be disrupted. The UK acted early in agreeing vaccine supplies last year and deals are in place with seven vaccine developers. This will ensure that vaccine supply continues to grow as the vaccine continues to be distributed across the UK and here in East Devon.
Dr Paul Johnson, Dr Barry Coakley, Dr Simon Kerr, GPs and healthcare staff in East Devon are working around the clock to accelerate the vaccine rollout. So long as we protect British vaccine supply and get the jabs into their teams’ hands, they do the rest. And if there are specific issues, these can be fed quickly into the Department of Health and the Vaccines Minister.
Speaking to local shops, pubs and restaurants over the phone and Zoom, they recognise the need to remain shut in lockdown but feel really anxious with bills mounting up. Further financial support in the upcoming Budget is going to be key and that’s why I’ve lobbied the Prime Minister at PMQs for the current 5% VAT rate for businesses to stay in place and spoken to Ministers about continued business rates relief to give our high streets and hospitality a helping hand.
It’s also important to make sure any ongoing restrictions post-lockdown don’t hold our recovery back. I didn’t vote for the 10pm curfew or enforced table service for hospitality last year. We’ve got to get the balance right and I’m meeting with Ministers to make sure East Devon’s voice is heard.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 10th February 2021. This column also appeared in the Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald.