UK

JANET STREET-PORTER: Boris promised us the vaccination programme would be fast and fair

If one more person texts me the good news they’ve had a jab, I’ll scream.

Over 400,000 people were vaccinated yesterday, and centres are opening apace in high street pharmacies, and even a mosque.

But scoring an appointment for vaccination remains a lottery depending on where you live.

In the North East over two thirds of those over-80 have been vaccinated, but in London it’s under half and the South East the number is around 60%.

Wales and Scotland lag well behind England.

Each day we’re bombarded with new figures, boosting this ‘amazing’ rollout – but delve deeper into what’s happening locally and you find things aren’t going as smoothly as Head Office would have us believe. 

Of the 400,000 people yesterday who received a jab how many were the people who needed it most? The over ‘80’s, care home residents and front-line workers?

Boris Johnson still has a fatal flaw – making promises he can’t deliver.

Why did he tell a nation of exhausted, frightened people that everyone over 70, front-line workers and the clinically vulnerable (15 million in total) would be vaccinated by mid-February?

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks at a vaccine sample through a microscope as he visits the quality control laboratory at Oxford BioMedica last week

Such well-intentioned bravado and optimism could well be doomed to failure – but no one will take the blame if the government fails to meet yet another dream target.

One number which I’m confident WILL be achieved is that over 100,000 people will have died and we will still be staring at our living room walls and ordering takeaways by Easter, in lockdown.

Boris continues to address us like small children or family pets, hoping we will respond positively to each little ‘treat’ of good news by accepting endless rules and restrictions on our lives.

With the highest number of preventable deaths since the last war, a vaccine (even when one – Pfizer- only provides a 30% level of protection when offered as a single dose) is the only way to plot a path back to civilised living.

Unfortunately for the British people, 90% of whom have spent almost a year following confusing rules, social distancing, staying away from elderly loved ones and washing their hands a million times a day – our vaccination programme is in the hands of clowns who couldn’t organise an office drinks party.

Not the willing volunteers offering tea, free lifts and soothing encouragement to the elderly. Or the Iman who offered his mosque as a centre in a community where distrust of vaccines is rife.

I mean the faceless NHS bureaucrats and quango bosses who are directing supplies, deciding what areas will get vaccine and how much.

Local medics aren’t allowed to specify which vaccine they will receive, and my local doctor told me they get just a week’s notice of the amount they are allocated. In many cases less vaccine turns up or arrives on a different day, so hours are wasted re-arranging appointments.

On top of everything else, one of the main suppliers – Pfizer- are re-fitting their factory in order to expand production, sending out less vaccine than was ordered.

One GP in Plymouth claims he only receives enough vaccine to run a vaccination clinic just one day a week. This story is being repeated in health centres up and down the country.

Most GPs are sending out letters for those who are eligible to come for a jab at a time when the Post Office admits that services are not up to scratch in dozens of areas because of sickness and staff shortages.

The faceless powers-that-be are also deciding to withhold vaccines from some areas (like mine) – allegedly, to allow other areas ‘catch up’.

How bloody arbitrary is that when we were promised this process would strictly adhere to the rules of age and vulnerability?

You can’t run the roll out of life-giving vaccines to people over 80 on such a short notice period.

They may need assistance and transport to attend an appointment. What if they are housebound?

And why vaccinate one half of a couple because they are over 80 but not the other, if they happen to be in their seventies? Why can’t every patient be notified via text or an email?

Although the government clearly defined the order in which Covid jabs could be handed out to the top four priority groups, some local councils seem determined to play God and interpret the rules in their own way.

In Oldham, the homeless were vaccinated before the over-75’s. In Cambridgeshire, some nursery workers were vaccinated before every 80 year-old, although the council later abandoned that policy.

The leader of Peterborough council is adamant that his council decides local priorities after it emerged that some secondary school staff in the area were vaccinated, even though they are working from home.

Allan Bishop, 86, watches as his wife, resident Katleen Bishop, 83, receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Belong Wigan care home in Wigan

Allan Bishop, 86, watches as his wife, resident Katleen Bishop, 83, receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Belong Wigan care home in Wigan

Once again, British Bureaucracy has triumphed. Yes, people are receiving the jab, but slowly, appallingly unfairly, and in some areas, not at all.

Consider the poor residents of Sandwich in Kent, the area where a particularly nasty new strain of Covid emerged which led to this latest lockdown.

Boris Johnson has been trumpeting that very soon every one of us will be able to get the jab within 10 miles of home.

Well, his dream has hit the buffers in Sandwich, where vaccinations up to this week have been almost non-existent.

Any over-80-year-old lucky enough to be offered a jab would need to take a 28-mile round trip to Dover.

In East Sussex, one surgery was expected to monitor an area of 200 square miles.

If you’re unlucky enough to live in Wales, it’s a vaccination desert – just 4.8% of the population have received the jab (compared to 8.1% in England), and even though the authorities received 250,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, first Minister Mark Drakeford announced he decided not to rush it all out at once because once it has been used, then vaccinators would be sitting around ‘doing nothing’.

It seems that the rollout of a vaccine which would improve the daily lives of millions of vulnerable Welsh residents is being scheduled to fit in with the work patterns of local government employees. How on earth can this happen?

The answer is Bureaucracy- something which has bedevilled the NHS, where office staff and managers outnumber front line workers.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon promised everyone over 80 would be vaccinated by the first week of February, but some GPs are complaining they have not yet received any vaccine. 

Although 600,000 doses have been sent to Scotland, less than half that amount has been administered, the vast majority to NHS, social or care workers.

As for my predicament, I’m 74 and my local doctors haven’t even started vaccinated the over-75’s – so whatever good news is spewing out from Messrs Hancock, co, the grass roots reality is very different.

Could it be that the elderly – who rarely complain, who have put up with so much, are being pushed down the queue by others claiming to be ‘more important’.

Right now I feel like a steerage passenger on the Titanic, hanging around, trying not to panic, as my place on the lifeboat seems to slip further and further away.

And we all know how that movie ends.


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