Fully resource the vaccination programme now
The Covid death toll is over 80,000 and rapidly rising. A successful vaccination programme couldn't be more urgent. Over two million people, in four priority categories, have received a first dose of one of the two vaccines currently in use in the UK.
Few people would disagree with them going to the most vulnerable first, but the lengthy timetable for offering them to everyone they're authorised as safe for - "by the autumn" - shows that the resources are not matching the urgency.
This comes after the slowness and failings of the test-and-trace system, the shortages of PPE, and the too-late lockdowns. Like all the government's measures during the pandemic, it again shows the dire overall lack of preparedness for the coronavirus outbreak.
Where was the advance planning for the mass vaccination centres that have belatedly been opened? And where are the many more needed? Will hospital sites, GP-led centres and pharmacies be given the full resources they need to contribute to the vaccination programme on top of their normal workload?
There is also uncertainty over the vaccine supply, with the present stocks enough only for another month, and not yet all safety-checked and packaged.
The issue of staffing is especially critical. Rife with low pay and overwork, the NHS had a shortage of staff in normal times, without the huge extra burden of treating Covid patients, and now a vast vaccination programme. Tory ministers are resorting to involving volunteers from the St John's Ambulance charity, many with no medical background, and given only short, rudimentary training.
Despite the government's catalogue of failures, once again blame is being twisted onto ordinary people: 'too many aren't turning up for the vaccinations', is a new refrain in the big business-supporting media. What about the travel difficulties, in winter weather, for the over-80s and "extremely clinically vulnerable", not to mention for the incredibly busy and over-tired frontline health and care workers?
The minority who don't want to be vaccinated are attacked, regardless of the varied standpoints within that layer, and many simply have questions with no one to direct them to - 'don't contact the NHS' is the instruction. The government added to potential concerns by lengthening the gap between the first and second doses, and by allowing the two doses to be different vaccines in some circumstances.
So, while everyone would be glad to see Matt Hancock's prediction of a "great summer" come to fruition (though surely not great for those who have lost family and friends to Covid), few will trust that Boris Johnson's short-sighted, incompetent Tory government can deliver that.
In The Socialist 13 January 2021:
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