There's light at the end of the tunnel, says Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Happy New Year to all the readers of this newspaper. But, very sadly, it has not been a particularly happy start to the new year - it has begun on a rather sombre note.
Being in the third lockdown of this pandemic, I am aware of how difficult this past year has been for so many people.
On the day I write this, the UK has recorded the highest daily toll of Covid deaths with cases rising rapidly. Many of us have lost loved ones and the pain and sadness of that is devastating. Loneliness, and associated mental health issues brought on by the lockdowns and not being able to live our lives normally have affected countless people, both young and old. And there have been so many living with economic hardship and uncertainty.
When we think back to the first lockdown last spring, it was in many people’s minds that with the oncoming warmer weather, that things would have been much improved by the summer. And in many ways, they were.
Infection rates fell and the death rate fell, as well. We had new and highly effective drugs to treat those suffering with Covid.
But moving into autumn, the second wave of the virus came early followed by the variant form of Covid which is far more contagious than the previous strain of the virus.
We find ourselves in another lockdown, with children unable to attend school and our hospitals very close to being overwhelmed, treating a vastly increased number of critically ill patients.
But there is something hugely different to this lockdown, something that wasn’t with us last spring, and that is the vaccine. There are two vaccines currently being administered to the most vulnerable and elderly, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
And it is fantastic news that the Moderna vaccine has recently been approved for use in the UK and will be available for deployment later this year – with 17 million doses of the jab pre-ordered. It is a very good thing to have a range of vaccines available to us.
We will look to offer a vaccine to all the most vulnerable people by the middle of next month, with millions more soon afterwards. I am as confident as I can be that the rate of deaths will start to fall once those who are most vulnerable to Covid - including the most elderly people - have been vaccinated.
Our mass vaccination programme, the biggest ever undertaken by this country, is on track. And it is a joint effort between the vaccine manufacturers, the regulator, the armed services, our NHS partners and the volunteer vaccinators who are signing up in droves.
I am incredibly grateful to all those who are taking part. Their efforts will save countless lives.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is now being rolled out in GP surgeries and care homes, in addition to our hospital vaccination centres. And locally, I am so pleased that there are vaccination sites across West Suffolk, with more coming on board soon.
We have vaccinated two million people so far, and the vaccination programme picking up pace.
I recognise how difficult these coming weeks will be, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The way out of this lockdown is clear, we need to continue to vaccinate at a rapid rate, we need to make the most vulnerable groups safe and we need everyone to play their part.
We are so close to the end; this is the final hurdle. Together, we will get through this.