Having delivered one dose of the vaccine to 67 per cent of people aged 80 and over, the highest rate in England, Yorkshire and the North East is expected to see a lower share of vaccine supplies next week compared with other regions, with reports that supplies to GPs surgeries could be cut by half.
The Government did not deny that it planned to reduce the number of doses being sent to Yorkshire and issued a statement saying limited supplies due a factory upgrade meant “we’re prioritising those most at risk from this disease across the country”.
Local leaders called for the Government to reverse this decision as fewer doses than planned “will cause anxiety for all those waiting to receive their jab and already stretched NHS staff”.
This follows a national row over the Yorkshire Post’s front page yesterday, which saw the word “Yorkshire” trending on Twitter.
Responding to the report that Yorkshire was being punished for its successful Covid-19 vaccine rollout, a handful of Tory MPs, including Covid vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi, said Yorkshire would receive the same share of the vaccine next week as this week, which Mr Zahawi said amounted to 13 per cent of the national supply.
This appeared to contradict comments from senior NHS clinicians and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said areas that had been less successful would be boosted, which would mean changing delivery plans in Yorkshire.
The Yorkshire Post understands that MPs were told the 13 per cent figure was incorrect in a meeting with NHS England staff this afternoon.
Labour MP for Leeds North West Alex Sobel said the Government had either shifted its policy on how many doses were going to Yorkshire or MPs got the figure wrong.
He said: “They need to make clear which it is as public confidence is undermined by mixed messages.”
Mr Zahawi has not responded to requests for comment.
Due to upgrades to the Pfizer facility in Belgium, supplies of the vaccine will be constrained next week, which meant the NHS needed to “make sure that goes to the areas where people are not vaccinated”, said Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement.
When asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether it was true to say the vaccine was being diverted away from areas which had been more successful in their rollouts in Yorkshire, Dr Kanani said: "Yes, I really understand my colleagues’ frustration, particularly in this case it happens to be in the northern areas, they've done an incredible job.
"And so while we have a supply that is constrained we need to make sure that goes to the areas where people are not vaccinated, because what we have to do, our priority is to make sure that the top priority groups are vaccinated as quickly as possible.
"So we need to target our deliveries to make sure that they are going to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the priority cohorts."
When asked if that meant delivery plans were being changed, she said: "Yes, so we're looking at it all the time. Our job is to make sure that across the country, people have equal access to the vaccine and so we do need to make sure that we target it so that every area gets the opportunity to get their, particularly their over-80s and their care home staff and residents vaccinated."
When asked directly by MPs in Parliament on Thursday, Matt Hancock did not deny supplies in Yorkshire and the North East would be limited in order to boost under-performing areas.
A Government spokesperson said: “In the coming week millions of doses of the vaccines will be delivered and we remain on track to offer first vaccinations to the top four priority groups by mid-February.
“As we’ve said, supply is the limiting factor and as the public would expect we’re prioritising those most at risk from this disease across the country.
“Our approach so far has ensured we’ve vaccinated more people than every country in Europe combined.”
The leaders of Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale and Wakefield councils criticised this approach, which “risks widening the health inequalities that this pandemic has exposed and which have not been properly addressed in the vaccine rollout programme”.
The joint statement read: “If some parts of the country are progressing at a slower rate, the answer should be to support those areas, not to penalise those that are delivering faster.
“We strongly urge the Government to reverse this decision and to focus on working with the vaccine manufacturers to address the supply issue that is at the core of this problem.”
Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the Royal Institution said there was not much sense in the choice to limit supplies in some areas in order to boost other areas.
He said: “It's another sort of reactive reaction as opposed to being proactive. That is not a good thing to do because you want to encourage people to vaccinate vaccinate vaccinate as quickly as you possibly can.”
He added: “Look, this is a hell of a problem, the long term issue is to get people vaccinated but they're not all gonna be vaccinated at the same time. Nothing's fair, but what we've got to make sure of is that we're doing our very very best to get the vaccines to the people that need them.”