Vaccines rationed in Yorkshire as Health Secretary says 'lumpy' supply means deliveries must be diverted to worse performing regions

The Health Secretary has said the supply of coronavirus vaccines is currently “lumpy” as it was revealed Yorkshire and the North East is set to have its allocation of the jabs halved due to performing so well.

Speaking in the Commons today Matt Hancock said: “The challenge to supply is, essentially, that we have a lumpy supply.”

And he said while manufacturers were “working incredibly hard to deliver the supply as fast as possible” he added: “It is challenging and therefore it isn’t possible to give certainty as far out as many GPs and those delivering on the ground would like – because the worst thing would be to give false certainty.”

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It comes as the Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported that health officials in Yorkshire had been told their vaccine supplies would be rationed since they were doing so well in rolling it out and limited supplies had to be diverted to areas which were struggling to reach vulnerable people.

A nurse prepares the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for doctors to inject into elderly residents arms at Bowbrook House care home in Shrewsbury. Photo: PAA nurse prepares the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for doctors to inject into elderly residents arms at Bowbrook House care home in Shrewsbury. Photo: PA
A nurse prepares the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for doctors to inject into elderly residents arms at Bowbrook House care home in Shrewsbury. Photo: PA

Sources told the HSJ that the vaccines handed to primary care networks in the Yorkshire and North East NHS region would drop from 200,000 to 100,000 next week.

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He said that the February 15th deadline of vaccinating key groups had been set “to make sure that everybody across the country gets it in a fair time”.

And he added: “And that’s why we’re putting more vaccine into the areas that haven’t made as much progress yet.”

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Asked directly about the situation in Yorkshire by Hemsworth Labour MP Jon Trickett, Mr Hancock said: “We’ve got to make sure that vaccination is fair right across the UK and some parts of the country, including parts of the North East and Yorkshire, have gone really fast early on, which is terrific.

“And we do have to make sure the vaccination programme is there everywhere, so everyone in the top four groups can receive that offer of a vaccine by the 15th of February. We will deliver on that.”

According to figures published yesterday, between December 8 and January 19 some 670,778 people in Yorkshire and the North East have had their first dose, and 71,378 second doses have been delivered, making 742,156 in total.

This was surpassed only by the Midlands, with 764,557 first doses and 66,271 second doses a total of 830,828.

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Meanwhile in London a total of 476,168 jabs have been given, including 423,733 first doses and 52,435 second doses.

Mr Hancock told the Commons the country is “in the midst of one of the toughest periods of this pandemic”.

Responding to an urgent question, he said: “Yesterday saw 1,820 deaths, which is the highest toll since the crisis began.

“As we endure these dark days and the restrictions we must all follow to save lives, we know that we have a way out, which is our vaccination programme and thanks to the hard work of so many people we now have an immense infrastructure in place that day by day is protecting the most vulnerable and giving hope to us all.

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“I’m glad to report to the House we now have given over five million doses of vaccine across the UK to 4.6 million people, making good progress towards our goal of offering everyone priority groups 1 to 4 their first dose by February 15.”

It came as experts tracking the spread of Covid-19 in England said infections may have gone up at the beginning of the current lockdown.

Professor Paul Elliot, who is leading the React study at Imperial College London, suggested the current measures may not be strict enough to see a drop in infections and the reproductive rate – the R.

The study involving 143,000 people, who were randomly selected, looked at the prevalence of coronavirus including in people without symptoms.

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Infections from January 6 to 15 were 50% higher than in early December, the study found.

Prof Elliott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the current R rate – which represents how many people an infected person will pass the virus on to – is “around 1”.

He added: “We’re in a position where the levels are high and are not falling now within the period of this current lockdown.”

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial, told Times Radio the study had examined a long enough time period to assess the current lockdown.

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“It’s long enough that, were the lockdown working effectively, we would certainly have hoped to have seen a decline,” he said.

He said data from previous lockdowns did show a fall, adding that the current research “certainly doesn’t support the conclusion that lockdown is working”.

On what he expects will happen in the current lockdown, he said: “We would expect a similar plateau, a very gradual increase (of infections), if behaviour stays the same and, if our interpretation is correct, if what we are seeing is kind of the result of the post-Christmas period behaviour.”

Government data shows that the number of new cases of Covid-19 per head of population has been falling in all regions of England.

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