Sir Keir Starmer calls for national action plan to roll out future coronavirus vaccine
Sir Keir Starmer has called for a national action plan to help roll out any future coronavirus vaccine.
Writing to the Prime Minister, the Labour leader welcomed the prospect of a vaccine and urged an approach that “harnesses all of the talents of the British people”.
His call to action comes in the week a vaccine made by Pfizer was found to be more than 90 per cent effective.
In his letter to Boris Johnson, Sir Keir said: “The challenge facing the country now is not just how we get control of the virus, but how we get ready for the vaccine.
“We are world leaders in vaccines, and I believe we should be aiming for a world-class programme for rolling it out. However, this will be a mammoth logistical operation, probably larger than we have seen since the Second World War.
“If we are to get it right, then we must have a clear plan in place now.
“It should be a plan that harnesses all of the talents of the British people - our businesses, nurses, doctors, scientists and public servants.”
Labour has now set out its suggestions for any plan to help the virus be distributed across Britain.
This includes setting out the criteria and targets that will be used to determine who is eligible for the vaccine and when.
The plan also wants to ensure there is no difference by region, with guaranteed equitable access regardless of location.
Labour are also suggesting supporting councils and local NHS services to refurbish community assets, such as town halls or sport centres, into local vaccine clinics.
These suggestions come on top of a clean-up to the procurement programme, as well as a nationwide public health campaign to combat misinformation.
In the letter, Sir Keir warned the UK Government had to learn from past mistakes to ensure a quick and fair distribution.
He explained: “The Government has been too slow to act throughout this pandemic – too slow into lockdown, too slow on testing, too slow getting equipment to frontline workers and too slow to protect our care homes.
“We have to be honest that failing to act quickly enough has come at a human and economic cost.
“That cannot be allowed to happen with the vaccine. The Government must be quick, decisive and effective so we can give the British people the security that they need.”
The Labour Leader offered to work with the Government to help do this for the “national interest”.
He said: “My goal is the same as yours - to help lift the cloud on this difficult period in our country’s history.”
The letter comes as one of the scientists behind the first Covid-19 vaccine to clear interim clinical trials claimed the impact of the jab will kick in next summer, and normality should return by next winter.
Chief executive of BioNTech Professor Ugur Sahin said it was "absolutely essential" to have a high vaccination rate before autumn next year to ensure a return to normal life next winter.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, he admitted the next few months would be “hard” and the vaccine would not have any impact on the current waves infection rates.
He said: "If everything continues to go well, we will start to deliver the vaccine end of this year, beginning next year.
"Our goal is to deliver more than 300 million of vaccine doses until April next year, which could allow us to already start to make an impact.
"The bigger impact will happen until summer, the summer will help us anyway because the infection rate will go down in summer.
"What is absolutely essential is that we get a high vaccination rate before autumn/winter next year, so that means all the immunisation, vaccination approaches must be accomplished before next autumn.
"I'm confident that this will happen, because a number of vaccine companies have been asked to increase the supply, and so that we could have a normal winter next year."
Elsewhere, Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), urged a long-term strategy for balancing the economy during the pandemic.
Raising concerns about "flip-flopping" between incentives, he appeared to question having the discount programme Eat Out To Help Out only to enforce new restrictions.
He said: "We need to take a long-term view and be sensible and realise that we're going to have to have restrictions in place for some time.
"Yes, we can lift them when it's safe to do so, which will be primarily when large numbers of people have been vaccinated.
"But flip-flopping between encouraging people to mix socially, which is what you're doing by encouraging people to go to restaurants and bars, versus then immediately closing them again, isn't a very sensible way to run the epidemic."
The UK will meanwhile be the first country to run final-stage trials of a coronavirus vaccine being developed by a company owned by Johnson and Johnson.
The phase-three trial of the vaccine from pharmaceutical company Janssen starts today and will be the first of its two-dose study.
Researchers are aiming to recruit around 6,000 UK participants at 17 sites across the country, including Dundee, Belfast and Manchester.
So far around 25,000 people in the UK have participated in vaccine trials, and more than 310,000 have indicated their willingness to take part in clinical studies by signing up to the NHS vaccine research registry.
However, Saul Faust, professor of paediatric immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, warned it was unclear how each vaccine would behave.
He said: “We can't be certain that vaccine supply will be efficient and effective and secure from any one manufacturer, wherever it's being made in the world."
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