Covid vaccine: Claims supplies 'diverted from the North' raise concerns

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image captionVaccination rates among over-80s in Yorkshire and the North East are higher than in any other part of England

Covid vaccine supplies in Yorkshire and the North East are reportedly being diverted to other parts of England.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported that the number of doses sent to GPs in both areas - which have the highest vaccination rates among over-80s - could be halved next week.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHS England said their focus was on targeting priority groups.

But some regional leaders branded the reported move an "absolute disgrace".

When NHS England was asked about the HSJ report, a spokesperson said: "All available vaccine doses are being delivered to vaccination sites and every GP-led vaccination site is receiving a delivery this week.

"To ensure all of those people in the top priority groups can get vaccinated quickly, targeted deliveries are being made to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the priority cohorts."

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi later denied the claims and stated "no vaccine is being taken away from Yorkshire".

According to the latest NHS figures, Yorkshire and the North East lead the UK with 64% of over-80s having receiving their first vaccine dose, compared with 48% in London and 13.1% in Scotland.

The HSJ said primary care providers in the regions could receive 100,000 doses next week, compared with the previous supply of 200,000.

When asked by Yorkshire Labour MP Jon Trickett about the HSJ story, Mr Hancock said the government was committed to ensuring that "everyone in the top four groups can receive that offer of a vaccine by 15 February".

"Of course we've got to make sure that vaccination programme is fair right across the UK, and some parts of the country, including parts of the North East and parts of Yorkshire, have gone really fast early on, which is terrific," said Mr Hancock.

'Penalised for doing right'

The reported change to GP supply was criticised in the North East, which recently announced plans to open more mass Covid jab sites.

Martin Gannon, the Labour leader of Gateshead Council, told colleagues he was "doing everything I can to control my temper" as they discussed the claims.

Speaking at a meeting of the full council, he said: "We have, clearly, the very best public health network in the entire country. I would be furious, I think we all should be in the region, if we are being penalised for being the best.

"The second point is that I can kind of understand that we have to let other areas catch up.

"However, we have greater need and greater vulnerability in the North East of England than some of the areas that are supposedly going to be allowed to catch up."

image copyrightOwen Humphreys/PA Wire
image captionAbout 700 people a day have reportedly attended Newcastle's Centre for Life vaccination site since it opened

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness tweeted: "Please tell me this isn't true. If it is, it's an absolute disgrace.

"We have the best public health network/partnership in the country. Are they really going to penalise us for getting this right?!"

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association GPs committee, said he understood that colleagues "will be frustrated" by the decision.

"But we also recognise that there is a need across the country to ensure that all over-80s, all in care homes get vaccinated and protected with the available vaccine we've secured," he said.

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the government has pledged to vaccinate everyone in the first four priority groups by the middle of February - including everyone over 70, care home staff and residents, and frontline health and social care workers.

It's right to move available vaccine stocks to where they are clinically most needed when there is limited supply.

The urgent goal is to vaccinate the most vulnerable in society, who risk getting very ill with or dying from Covid, as quickly as possible.

Some parts of the UK have done a speedy job with this and are ready to move on to the next tier of people in the mass rollout.

Those regions are being praised, not penalised - they have done fantastic work in getting over-80s immunised and those who have received those jabs should soon reap the benefit of protection against severe Covid.

The priority now is getting all of the highest risk people their shots so they can have the same protection regardless of where they live. That benefits all of society.

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