England’s health chiefs should not ‘take their eye off the ball’ on the introduction of the Covid jab, MPs say

England’s health chiefs should not ‘take their eye off the ball’ on the introduction of the Covid jab, MPs say

Health chiefs overseeing England’s Covid-19 vaccination program must be careful not to take their eye off the ball, the House of Commons public accounts committee said on Wednesday, warning that almost 3 million people are yet to receive a single Covid vaccine.

The UK achieved one of the fastest vaccination roll-outs in the world after the shots were first approved in December 2020. Nine out of 10 adults had received two doses by the end of May this year. However, from the immediate Covid the crisis has subsided, there was a danger that immunization is no longer considered a priority, the MPs said.

The committee, which monitors public spending, said 2.98 million adults in England remained unvaccinated at the end of May, while another 1.5 million received just one dose. Spending on the first booster vaccine, for which all adults were eligible, was 73 percent, the committee noted.

Young urban residents make up many of those who are unvaccinated, with just five cities accounting for a quarter of the total, the report said.

Meg Hillier, chair of the board, praised the “tremendous efforts of those who developed, secured and managed our Covid vaccines“, but she added, “It is important that early success does not mean that the department will [of health] and NHS England are taking their eye off the ball in meeting future challenges and bringing vaccines to hard-to-reach groups.”

Age and ethnicity were factors in the low popularity, MPs suggested. Only 55 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds had received two doses by the end of May, and only 38 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds. The uptake among pregnant women is particularly low: by February of this year, only 58 percent had received two doses, they pointed out.

Meanwhile, compared to white British people, black, black British and Pakistani people were less than half as likely to have had booster shots. Fresh approaches were needed to tackle the “persistently low uptake observed in some ethnic groups”, the committee said.

Particular challenges are related to the vaccination of people with learning disabilities, which “have not always been consistently or adequately addressed,” it added.

The PAC said NHS England had built on approaches recommended by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the World Health Organization to achieve impressive implementation so far.

But with the country “no longer in a state of emergency and other issues overshadowing COVID-19 in the news, vaccination is now a worryingly low priority for many people,” it added.

He also expressed concern about sufficient capacity and staffing for the vaccination program in the coming months. NHS England has begun planning to cut vaccination sites and staff for the rest of 2022 in anticipation of lower overall demand, “but it is not yet clear how its strategy will strike the right balance between maintaining high levels of vaccination uptake and ensuring that demands on healthcare staff are sustainable”, said the PAC.

MPs also questioned the government’s decision to focus the boost program on just two companies: Moderna and Pfizer.

The Department of Health and Welfare and the Vaccine Task Force “should urgently review the future procurement strategy for Covid-19 vaccines, seeking all necessary clinical and commercial expertise, to ensure that future contracts do not allow the pool of suppliers to be too narrow”, they they said.

The government said it is “working hard to reach those people who are still unvaccinated against Covid, including using vaccination clinics and mobile clinics to increase access and convenience, and providing messages from trusted voices – such as faith and community leaders – for different people to get the vaccine”.

NHS England has already started preparations “to ensure they are ready to deliver Covid vaccines to those who are eligible as part of the autumn Covid boost program to ensure protection before winter”, it added.

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