The Chief Medical Officer warned us that “unfortunately we’re going to see quite a lot more deaths over the next few weeks before the effects of the vaccines begin to be felt”.
From a medical man who puts so much store by graphs and charts, this was worryingly vague as Tory backbench MPs press to ease social restrictions as soon as the most vulnerable are vaccinated.
This misses the point. The most vulnerable, as a rule, will continue to shield until they’ve had their second dose and feel safe. Just ask my dad. For, if the experience I’ve had with elderly relatives is anything to go by, there are serious gaps in the provision.
My own parents, both 77, were contacted by their GP practice last week and told to be on stand-by for a call on Friday to come into the surgery for the Oxford vaccine. Both have health issues, especially dad, with a serious heart condition, COPD and rheumatoid arthritis.
V-Day arrived. My mother was ready at 8.30am, with her earrings and make-up on, she told me. The call came at 4pm. Grateful as my parents were to receive the first dose, the surgery staff could give no indication of when they might receive the second one. It’s back to indefinite shielding for them then.
By contrast, four miles away on the other side of Barnsley, my father-in-law has been summoned to the new vaccination centre in Wakefield for his jab. And he’s already got the date for his second one in the middle of April.
He’s 76 and had skin cancer a few years ago. Meanwhile my 70-year-old mother-in-law, suffering from a number of physical and mental health issues, does not yet qualify.
They’re slightly taken aback. And they would be extremely anxious if we weren’t on hand to drive them to Navigation Walk. The journey from their home to Wakefield would involve three or four buses and trains. They think they’ve been invited because their own GP in the village isn’t administering vaccinations.
My 80-year-old uncle was in a similar situation. By some mad quirk of government geography, he was told he would be obliged to travel from Penistone in South Yorkshire to Macclesfield in Cheshire. It takes more than an hour to drive there and probably two days by train via Sheffield.
He queried this and was eventually given the option of persuading another GP practice to inoculate him. Following some hard negotiation with the surgery receptionist, he did.
Elderly people shouldn’t be finding themselves in this situation. Yes, I know that the NHS has now vaccinated more than seven million people since December 8. This is testament to the hard-working staff and volunteers at the sharp end of the NHS, including those pitching in across our region to track down and cajole the isolated elderly and vulnerable afraid and confused about the vaccines. On the first-hand evidence I’ve witnessed, no wonder they are confused.
I was called cynical before Christmas by well-meaning friends who work for the NHS. They tried to reassure me, in the words of their ultimate boss, Matt Hancock, to hang in there as “help was coming”.
I think my arch response may have been more akin to that of a drowning passenger flailing in the icy seas as the Titantic sunk than a hopeful soldier on the beach at Dunkirk.
Perhaps I know a little bit more about politics and politicians than I do about health service management, but I had my doubts from the start that this Government was capable of rolling out such a major and untested vaccination programme seamlessly and without hitch. And that was before we became familiar with the term ‘vaccine nationalisation’.
Can it only be weeks since we celebrated the global co-operation which went into creating the vaccines produced by the international companies Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna?
And now we must watch as our own Prime Minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen scrap like two dogs fighting over a bone about vaccines and ingredients crossing borders.
And we must listen, as the Prime Minister says sorry, that 100,000 families have lost a loved one on his watch. We can’t let this go unnoticed. The Government must be impelled to join up the dots, define those terms and deliver a credible way forward.
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