MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENTS: Sajid Javid needs to get a grip on jabs shambles and start the boosters
With all the sluggishness, tremors and hesitation of an old bus trying to start on a frosty morning, the government is finally moving to do something about the failure of the Covid booster program. We should be glad it tries, but it should definitely try a lot harder. Much depends on it.
As long as we can keep vaccine protection high, the danger of a renewed virus crisis sweeping our hospitals is much smaller, as is the danger of yet another grim lockdown closing the country over the winter months.
Perhaps ministers are just too preoccupied with their green agenda, driven by the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, which is now just a week away. We must undoubtedly do everything possible to save the planet, but this does not mean that governments can forget the normal day-to-day tasks of keeping people healthy, safe and prosperous.
In the beginning, the British vaccination program was an excellent example of all that is best about this government. The research was world famous, fast and brilliant.
Health Minister Sajid Javid photographed during a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on October 20
The launch was bold and beautifully organised, and its near-universal adoption by vulnerable citizens stopped Covid in its tracks. Equally crucial was that the government had secured its supplies so that there was always enough to meet demand. We showed the EU and the world how such a project can be implemented.
Dame Kate Bingham, her capable Lieutenant Emily Lawson (now happily back to work on the booster program) and Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi together gave a textbook example of what the government can do if it really tries. They believed that problems could always be solved if you really wanted to solve them, rather than the traditional Civil Service view that problems are an excuse to fail.
Since this team broke up, Whitehall seems to have sunk back into Not Very Good’s default position, paired with Not Very Fast. This just won’t work. This is not the time to slacken. It is difficult to overestimate how much this success has achieved. We owe our return to normal, or at least close to normal, almost entirely to the taming effect vaccination has had on the virus.
So when the effect of the spring and summer vaccinations fades, and it is inevitable, we need to act. Still, the numbers are staggering. Only 1.3 million of the 2.3 million over-80s who qualify for a booster have received one to date.
A nurse administers a dose of a Pfizer booster vaccine to a member of the public at a vaccination center in Derby on September 20
Authorities accept that 2.4 million eligible people have not yet been invited for a booster shot. The plan to vaccinate schoolchildren is also stalling, despite mounting evidence, which we report today, that it could make a significant contribution to keeping Covid under control.
Whose fault is this? If the government blames the people for the shortcomings of its policies, you can always be sure that the government is wrong. Still, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said last week there is “sufficient capacity” and other officials cited perceived public complacency as a key factor in the slow adoption.
Actually? We will see how complacent people are when it becomes easier to make vaccination appointments, a move now promised by the government.
There is a lot here for the new health minister, Sajid Javid, to take charge.
He has certainly had time to get used to his new responsibilities. Now let him show his pass.