West Suffolk MP and Health Secretary Matt Hancock reflects on the success of the vaccination programme
There have been many ups and downs over the past year and a half or so since the start of the pandemic.
We all know incredibly the difficult and sad times that we all have experienced – everyone was affected in one way or another. Thankfully we now have the vaccination programme delivering at a record pace.
We faced the greatest threat to public health in a lifetime and we battled as a society to get and to keep Covid-19 under control. But the most effective way to have achieved that is by rolling out a hugely successful vaccination programme across the country, that in turn will be rolled out across the rest of the world.
Back before Covid was even called Covid, we made the decision that we had to both buy and develop a vaccine that would make us safe, as we knew that vaccines would be our best long-term way out of the pandemic. Despite being told that vaccines usually take at least five years to develop and even with all the resources at our disposal, we were told that this one would not be available until well into 2021. But thankfully, we managed to drive things forward faster than that, and were the first country in the world to have a clinically authorised vaccine with the first vaccine going into the arm of 90-year-old Margaret Keenan just over six months ago. It was an incredibly emotional moment for so many people, watching the first vaccine in the world being administered.
We have come a long way since then, and at the time of writing we are now vaccinating the over 25s and have administered over 70 million vaccines.
It has been a partnership between the scientists, the vaccine manufacturers, the NHS and the volunteers who have been working tirelessly every day across the country to get them rolled out.
But ultimately, all of this would have come to nothing without the willingness and the trust of the public come forward, roll up their sleeves and be vaccinated. We were honest with people that there would be side effects but that we would manage them and told them that the supply of the vaccine might be ‘lumpy’. But I’m so glad that we were completely honest with the public and gave them the full picture. It was this respect that gained their trust, and this translated into incredible levels of vaccine confidence and uptake – the UK has one of the highest in the world.
We also wanted to deliver the vaccine fairly. We made the decision that vaccines would be given according to need, not the ability to pay. Everyone had to wait their turn for their call up telling them they were eligible to go and be vaccinated.
The fairness of the system also helped to instil confidence – we were all in this together and no one was better or more special than anyone else.
I have visited many vaccination centres all around the country and have seen the pride of the volunteers, knowing they are saving people’s lives. And I have seen the happiness and gratitude of people who have been vaccinated who have had to shield for the past year, who now have their freedom back. All of this is life changing and I am proud to have played a part in it.
I am especially proud of the vaccination effort in West Suffolk and the surrounding area where over half the adults have had two jabs, 87 per cent of the over 50s have had two jabs and we have been top of the national league table for second doses. There are dozens of vaccination centres all round the area and all are doing a fantastic job. But it is the local people, my constituents, who have made the difference – when they got the call, they came forward and got the jab. And they continue to do so, with ever younger cohorts becoming eligible to be vaccinated every week.
Our vaccination programme has given people hope for the future. We have the science; we have the manufacturing production and we have the volunteers to give the vaccine to people to get the vaccines rolled out and to put the pandemic behind us. We have all played a part in this – thank you for all you have done to help.