This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Petersfield Post and Herald editions:
"More than two million people across the UK have already received their first covid vaccine dose, which is more than anywhere else in Europe, and includes about forty percent of people over the age of 80.
It is a huge task being undertaken and until very recently there has been the additional challenge of the constraints of the Pfizer vaccine. It has to be stored at minus 70 degrees and therefore isn’t suitable for some types of distribution.
We now have as well, though, the Astra-Zeneca/University of Oxford vaccine, which is much more flexible. There is also now a third vaccine licensed, from Moderna, which can be stored at minus 20 degrees for up to six months.
Hampshire NHS was quick off the mark, and is ahead of national rates on proportions of people vaccinated. People registered with GPs in the Alton area have been going to the large facility at the Hampshire Court hotel, near Basingstoke, as well as vaccinations within care homes. Discussions continue about further extension of provision locally. Other vaccination locations include the Forest Surgery in Bordon, and the Holiday Inn on the A31 near Winchester.
There are to date 36 local vaccine service locations across Hampshire, in addition to the main hospital hubs, with more to follow in the next few weeks. This includes the Forest Surgery in Bordon and the Festival Hall in Petersfield.
The rollout of the vaccination programme continues apace nationally this week, with more than 1200 smaller sites up and running, 223 hospital sites, 7 large-scale vaccination centres and the first wave of 200 community pharmacies also operating. The largest in our history, the programme is the result of months of preparation by the Vaccine Taskforce, the NHS, the Armed Forces, and local government at every level.
There is planned to be capacity to deliver around 2 million vaccinations in England per week by the end of January and residents and staff in over 10,000 care homes across the country are set to be offered a vaccine by the end of the month.
The target is to see 15 million people vaccinated by the middle of February – the top four most vulnerable groups, as identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). These are people aged 70 and over, care home residents, the clinically extremely vulnerable, and the health and social care staff looking after them.
These are the people most at risk of developing a serious illness and needing care in hospital. With very serious warnings this week that the NHS is facing its toughest time yet, we must of course do everything we can to reduce the burden on hospitals and the staff who continue to look after the tens of thousands of patients with covid already in their care.
But there are many other people who will need protecting. In my speech in Parliament last week I called for teachers and other key workers to be treated as high priority for vaccination, once the highest risk groups are covered. We know how important it remains to keep schools open for those most in need, but of course access to face-to-face teaching remains key for all pupils and students; reopening schools remains a top priority.
The initial roll out will continue to prioritise the first doses of vaccine for as many people as possible. The UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed the longer-interval timeframe so that more people can get their first dose quickly, and because the evidence shows that one dose offers a high level of protection. The more people covered in this way, the better for community protection.
Everyone will need to receive a second dose. It is vital that anyone who has had the first dose continues to follow the rules on social distancing, allowing time for immunity to build, and because it is not yet clear if the vaccine prevents people contracting the virus and transmitting it to others.
The scale and logistics of the programme are vast. 80,000 health professionals are being mobilised to help with the rollout, with more than 200,000 members of the public also putting themselves forward. I want to thank and commend all the local people who have volunteered.
A vaccine was always going to be the best way out of this pandemic, but it will inevitably take time to deliver the full programme, and that is why the expansion of community testing is also a vital part of the fight against the spread of the virus.
An increase of asymptomatic testing will help find more cases and support critical sectors and workplaces where people cannot work from home. With roughly a third of people who have coronavirus showing no symptoms, testing is vital to help break transmission chains across our communities.
People will of course be eager to get protected, and delivering this programme could not be more important in our fight against the virus, and to help see more of normal life return for all."