York Press column: The Success of the Vaccine Rollout Begins to Tip the Balance of Risks of Lockdowns
February 11, 2021
While it seems the past five years have been dominated by disagreements with the European Union, over the weekend I found myself agreeing with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, when she described the United Kingdom’s ability to procure and rollout vaccines as a lone country as being like a speedboat.
Like many others I’m sure, I eagerly await each day for the latest update to our vaccination statistics as new milestones are reached and records broken at an ever-quickening pace. One in five adults have now been inoculated but with more vaccination centres coming online each week to further increase capacity as well as up to three further vaccines set for approval to ensure supply, it would appear that our vaccine programme has not yet reached top gear.
With the Government’s target of offering everyone in the top four priority groups a vaccine by mid-February now within reach, it has been confirmed that the next aim is to offer everyone in the top nine priority groups a vaccine by May. This includes all over 50s, vulnerable groups as well as health and care staff. These demographics account for 99% of those who have sadly died from coronavirus and over 80% of all hospitalisations caused by the virus.
It is because we now have a clear plan for vaccine rollout that I have been calling for a clear roadmap out of lockdown, based on reaching vaccination targets and maintaining ample hospital capacity. After raising the issue at Prime Minister’s Question at the start of the year, I welcome the announcement that a comprehensive exit strategy will be unveiled on February 22nd.
I know that whenever I have lobbied for a plan to be published for easing lockdown measures, it has been met with hesitation by some constituents, but I maintain that I do not make these calls recklessly. Any targets or dates set for removing safety restrictions must be caveated with the understanding that if case numbers once again rise, we will halt our progress until it is safe to proceed again. However, like seasonal flu, coronavirus may return with reduced prevalence annually so we cannot wait for zero cases before re-emerging.
When continually reassessing the effectiveness of current lockdown measures, it is important to return to the reasoning behind implementing them in the first instance – threatened with new even more infectious strains of the virus, we were warned that the NHS risked being overwhelmed and a second wave was imminent which could eclipse the first wave from spring last year. Faced with such stark warnings, it was only right that MPs authorised another lockdown, but it should also not be forgotten at what cost this came.
Each time that we are re-enter the strictest restrictions, we ask everyone to make sacrifices. For some this is to work from home and not see their loved ones for the duration of the lockdown but for others the stakes are even greater. Cancer sufferers have to endure ever extending waiting times for treatment. Business owners stretch their companies to the extremes of viability. Children have their education and development disrupted with the long-term effects being unknown for generations. Many who live alone face extended isolation and dire mental health implications.
For these reasons, just as I cannot condone those who have long wanted to do away with all safety measures with no regard for the true dangers of this terrible virus, I cannot assent to calls to not plan a route out lockdown as soon as sufficient vaccinations make it possible to safely do so.
In my responsibility to consider all available options, I feel great pressure to balance the risks of the health emergency that we have faced for the last year against the ongoing sacrifices by those most impacted by lockdown.
More than one in seven UK businesses are at great risk of imminent closure, with 1.9 million jobs at stake if the economy does not reopen sooner rather than later. One in six children are now suffering difficulties with mental health directly caused by lockdowns and school closures. Millions of operations have been cancelled and treatments deferred for a myriad of non-covid ailments.
So, while we rightly rejoice at the news that over twelve million people have received a vaccine dose, we must now begin to honour the sacrifices made across the country