Five vaccine questions that need answering – Tom Richmond

IT was a genuine moment of history – and hope – when a modest Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person in the world to receive the Covid vaccine earlier this week.

Her desire to be able to see family and friends again, and the ovation she received from equally overwhelmed NHS staff in Coventry, was a morale-boost comparable to Captain Sir Tom Moore’s now legendary fundraising.

And this was self-evident in the House of Commons when Health Secretary Matt Hancock briefed MPs – and revelled in the moment – having found the time to wipe away the many tears that he’d earlier shed on Good Morning Britain.

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I don’t necessarily blame Hancock for showing his emotion – he’s been under unbearable pressure for most of the year – but I despair of his inability to accept constructive criticism or respond to correspondence.

Maragret Keenan made history on Tuesday when she became the first peron in the world to receive the Covid vaccine.

But what I do despise is nauseating interventions like the one made by Hancock’s predecessor Jeremy Hunt who now chairs Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee.

He is effectively responsible for scrutinising NHS policy, including the Covid response, and asking penetrating questions about the Covid immunisation programme.

And, despite this momentous breakthrough, there were so many questions which MPs and the public had expected Hunt to ask of his successor:

Like reassurances about the effectiveness of Pfizer’s Covid-19 jab when it is still not authorised for use in other countries, as well as protocols for those who suffer from allergies.

Jeremy Hunt is chair of Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee.

Like what the Government intends to do to encourage people to have the vaccine in sufficient numbers, whether elderly people should be at the forefront of a new public health information campaign, and how the NHS intends to reach those senior citizens too ill, or too frightened, to leave the confines of their own home.

Like the practical steps in place to ensure the safe distribution of a vaccine that has to be stored at minus 70 degrees.

Like the precise policy when it comes to inoculating care home residents, and workers, after the mixed messages of the past week.

Like the availability of NHS workers and others to inject patients when both Covid – and post-Brexit immigration rules – have left the health sector facing an even greater staff shortage at a moment of national peril.

Matt Hancock is the Health and Social Care Secretary.

These are just a few of the many pertinent questions that Hunt could – and should – have asked after expressing his own congratulations to Hancock.

Not a bit of it. Instead, as he played to his audience and asked this fawning question: “It is very, very cold outside, and the question on many people’s minds is: are they now able to book a summer holiday?”

The nauseating Hunt wasn’t finished. He went on to ask: “What is my right hon. Friend’s answer to that question, and is there anywhere in particular that he would recommend if the answer is yes?”

I’ll spare you most of Hancock’s equally gushing reply, other than to say that he has “high confidence that the summer of 2021” and that he’s booked a holiday in Cornwall (at least we don’t have to strengthen flood defences here in case Hancock becomes a blubbering wreck walking along Bridlington prom).

But this was precisely the type of self-congratulatory exchange that brings politics into disrepute and betrays the public interest.

I can only assume Hunt, who looked very pleased with himself, had one of two motives – either he wants to deflect criticism away from his record as Health Secretary between 2012-18 when PPE stocks were run down, or he wants a job back in the Cabinet after rejecting the role of Defence Secretary when Boris Johnson became PM.

From my point of view, there are still many political and logistical challenges to overcome before V Day – Vaccine Day – becomes VC Day and we celebrate our collective victory over Covid. It will be helped, therefore, if health policy could be scrutinised by an arbiter far more objective – and far less conflicted – than Jeremy Hunt who should now take a long holiday from Westminster for the good of our health. And politics.

ENVIRONMENT Secretary George Eustice tries to reassure us that a “Government-procured ferry” is on standby if Brexit risks the safe transport of Covid vaccines across the English Channel. That’s the good news.

Unfortunately he’s still to confirm that a certain Chris Grayling – the former Cabinet minister who once awarded a contract to a ferry firm with no ships 
and who is now paid £100,000 a year on top of his MP’s salary to act as a consultant to a ports operator – has had nothing to do with these contingency arrangements. Please clarify Minister. Lives are at stake.

CROSSRAIL has announced it is entering a “crucial” development phase as it doubles the number of test trains, despite its financial troubles. We can always send then our pensioned-off Pacers so London commuters realise their good fortune while the North waits – and hopes – for better services.

LIKE you, I endorse the ‘Service with Respect’ campaign which encourages businesses and the Government to do more to protect frontline workers having to deal with increasingly irritable members of the public.

But I’m just surprised that the initiative is being championed by Shipley MP Philip Davies in his role as co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service. For I can’t believe that he’s a reformed character after his intolerant responses to local constituents over footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign on free school meals.

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