Teachers are set to REFUSE to go back to school: Union will tell its members to stay at home


Teachers are set to refuse to go back to school under plans from the UK’s biggest teaching union to tell its members to stay at home.

The National Education Union (NEU) said it will advise its members of their legal right not to have to work in an unsafe environment. 

Dr Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, said: ‘Whilst we are calling on the Government to take the right steps as a responsible union we cannot simply agree that the Government’s wrong steps should be implemented.

‘That is why we are doing our job as a union by informing our members that they have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions which are a danger to their health and to the health of their school communities and more generally.’

The general secretary of the NASUWT union, Dr Patrick Roach, also called for an immediate nationwide move to remote education due to safety concerns. 

Meanwhile, the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) has started preliminary steps in legal proceedings against the Department for Education and is awaiting the Government’s response. 

The union is also preparing to advise headteachers not to take action against employees who decline to return to work, reports The Observer.

The caution comes amid warnings that the mass testing plan to get classes running again is in ‘chaos’ and demands for all primaries and secondaries to be closed.

Most primary schools in England are expected to open on Monday while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis, with exam year pupils returning on January 11 and others returning a week later.

Unions representing teachers and support staff have since called for delays to the reopening of schools, with Dr Bousted also calling for a mass-testing system to be set up and led by public health bodies at the start of the new term. 

It follows Gavin Williamson being accused of making two U-turns this week, after initially releasing a list of London primary schools in ‘hotspots’ that would stay shut for two weeks after the start of term and then closing all primaries in the city.  

In other recent developments relating to Covid-19: 

  • Pfizer and AstraZeneca rejected Government warnings of months-long vaccine supply gaps, claiming there will be enough doses to hit the ambitious targets;
  • Coronavirus vaccine makers blasted the EU for being too slow to secure stocks of the jab as pressure mounts on France and Germany to speed up immunisation;
  • Experts warned hospitals that the current number of coronavirus cases is ‘mild’ compared to what is coming next week;
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock thanked ‘everyone playing their part’ as he revealed more than one million people have been vaccinated;
  • The UK yesterday announced another 53,285 people had Covid-19, marking four days in a row that there have been more than 50,000 positive tests. 

In a statement, Dr Bousted said: ‘We are informing our members of their legal right to protection to be guided by the science.’

She explained that this means teachers can be available to work from home and work with vulnerable children and those of key workers, but not to take full, in-person classes from Monday.

She continued: ‘We will be informing our members that they have the right to work in safe conditions which do not endanger their health. We realise that this late notice is a huge inconvenience for parents and for head teachers.

‘The fault, however, is of the Government’s own making and is a result of their inability to understand data, their indecisiveness, and their reckless approach to their central duty – to safeguard public health.’ 

Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, added: ‘We think we should follow the science. We think that everybody in our country should follow the science. We’re confident we’re speaking for society, that the government just isn’t taking care of us.’

NASUWT’s Dr Roach commented: ‘There is genuine concern that schools and colleges are not able to reopen fully and safely at this time.

‘The NASUWT remains of the view that schools, colleges and other settings should only remain open to all pupils where it is safe for them to do so.

‘The NASUWT will not hesitate to take appropriate action in order to protect members whose safety is put at risk as a result of the failure of employers or the Government to ensure safe working conditions in schools and colleges.’ 

NAHT’s general secretary Paul Whiteman said: ‘We have asked the Government to share the evidence justifying distinctions drawn between primary and secondary schools, the geographical distinctions they have made and the evidence justifying the compulsory introduction of mass testing.’ 

In an update to members today, Mr Whiteman added: ‘The Government’s current approach is too simplistic and is damaging education. It is time to properly respond to what professional educators need rather than how attractive a headline may read. 

Social distancing signs displayed at Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, London, today as Covid cases across the capital city have been putting rising pressure on the NHS

Social distancing signs displayed at Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, London, today as Covid cases across the capital city have been putting rising pressure on the NHS

The National Education Union tweeted earlier today: 'Our Executive is meeting this morning and we will announce new guidance shortly afterwards'

The National Education Union tweeted earlier today: ‘Our Executive is meeting this morning and we will announce new guidance shortly afterwards’

‘The Government is alienating the profession, failing children and being reckless with the safety of the whole school community.’ 

The call to delay the reopening of schools was supported by Unison, as the union’s head of education Jon Richards said: ‘The Government must end its bitty, piecemeal approach and act decisively by delaying the start of term for all schools by two weeks because of spiralling infection rates.’

The GMB union, which represents school support staff, said it will take action to defend the safety of its members unless the Education Secretary delays the reopening of schools in England.

Stuart Fegan, GMB national officer, commented: ‘Gavin Williamson is at sixes and sevens over the reopening of schools. His shambolic approach is a recipe for chaos and danger. It’s causing huge stress.

‘As infection rates rise, we need a consistent approach, not a postcode lottery. The Education Secretary now needs to apply some common sense, make a full U-turn, and delay reopening all schools in England until proper safeguards are in place.

‘No-one wants to disrupt any child’s learning but action is needed to protect people and make schools safe. This must include ensuring priority vaccination of all support staff in schools – key workers who are all too often forgotten.’

Dr Bousted earlier told the BBC’s Today Programme: ‘In secondary schools for 1,000 pupils you will need about 21 volunteers to do this testing as teachers can’t do it and the support staff can’t do it because they will be teaching and supporting children’s learning.’

Referring to school closures, she added: ‘It is completely unacceptable that we keep having these U-turns, these last-minute decisions, where parents don’t know where they are, where teachers and school staff just don’t know where they are. 

‘The only other thing I would have to say is we don’t see this happening in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland – we don’t see these U-turns, these furious reversals in policy and that makes for a much calmer environment for both teachers and education professionals.’ 

Dr Bousted further explained how pupils in secondary schools are put together in year group bubbles of up to 240 with no social distancing, leading to the transmission of the virus.  

Dave Lee-Allan, a headteacher in Suffolk, expressed his frustration that teachers were not being prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines. 

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘It seems highly frustrating to me that we’re constantly being told by the Government that keeping children in school is a national priority and that we are key workers.

‘Yet apparently we don’t qualify, along with other key workers, to get early access to the vaccine. It just seems another common-sense decision that could help belay the fears and increase the safety of staff, and this is in primary and secondary.’ 

Meanwhile Sam Williamson, a headteacher in Bristol, told BBC Breakfast her secondary school was prepared for the rollout of mass testing as supplies are due to arrive on Monday, after senior staff had ‘three or four’ days off for Christmas.

She said: ‘The basic plan is in place and we will actually be ready to go as long as tests arrive on time and we’ve got enough volunteers which we think we have.’

Ms Williamson said her school’s plan would be to start testing Years 11 and 14 on Thursday and Friday of the following week.

Asked about sourcing volunteers, she continued: ‘We actually put messages out to our school community before we broke up for the break, we’re very lucky that we’ve got quite a number of part-time members of teaching staff and part-time members of pastoral staff, most of whom have come forward and offered additional days, so they’re already DBS checked so that puts us in quite a fortunate position to be able to meet that need.

‘We’ve also had some ex-members of staff come forward who will need to be DBS checked but are willing and able to come and join us.’  

A tweet from the National Education Union today, saying: 'We have thousands of reps from all the country on our briefing right now. We must #MakeSchoolsSafe to #ProtectCommunities'

A tweet from the National Education Union today, saying: ‘We have thousands of reps from all the country on our briefing right now. We must #MakeSchoolsSafe to #ProtectCommunities’

It comes as school face difficulties over setting up mass-testing which includes finding volunteers after Christmas (file photo)

 It comes as school face difficulties over setting up mass-testing which includes finding volunteers after Christmas (file photo) 

All primary schools in London will now close for the start of the new term after the Government U-turned on its decision to keep some open despite rising Covid cases

All primary schools in London will now close for the start of the new term after the Government U-turned on its decision to keep some open despite rising Covid cases

The National Education Union tweeted earlier today: ‘Our Executive is meeting this morning and we will announce new guidance shortly afterwards.    

‘Over 10,000 members have registered for our Zoom briefings this weekend and tomorrow morning’s 11am briefing will be live streamed on social media. #MakeSchoolsSafe #ProtectCommunities.’

The NEU added: ‘We must #MakeSchoolsSafe so we can #protectcommunities. Members please register for our emergency briefings and tomorrow’s will be live streamed on social media. We will be announcing the decision of the Executive later.’ 

It comes as school face difficulties over setting up mass-testing which includes finding volunteers after Christmas. 

In a bid to prepare mass-testing, schools are converting art studios, sports halls and setting up marquees in playgrounds which are potentially set to be manned by alumni volunteers, according to The Times.  

The Department for Education has told all secondary schools in England to focus on setting up lateral flow testing which pupils are expected to take themselves overseen by volunteers. 

In a lateral flow test, fluid is taken in a swab of the nose or the throat and applied to a piece of absorbent paper that will change colour to indicate whether or not the virus is present, taking just 15 to 30 minutes to produce a result.  

The situation is not expected to become clear until the next review date of January 13. 

In the list of London primary schools in Covid ‘hotspots’ that was released by Mr Williamson this week, it did not include areas where coronavirus rates are high, such as Haringey, whose leaders said they would defy the government and support schools that decided to close.   

Under the Government’s initial plan, schools in the City of London and Kingston were set to reopen but those in 22 other London boroughs would have remained closed.

The leaders of Camden, Islington, Greenwich, Haringey, Harrow, Hackney and Lewisham boroughs, and the City of London, said in a letter to the Education Secretary: ‘We ask in the strongest terms that your recommendation is urgently reviewed and our primary schools are added to the list of those advised to move learning online.’

The action prompted an emergency Cabinet Office meeting where the decision was taken to abandon the original plans and order the remaining areas to close their primary schools.  

The move is expected to see similar arrangements to the spring lockdown when schools continued to accept children from key worker families but moved to online learning for the vast majority of pupils.  

The government’s lack of investment ‘to blame for slow vaccine roll-out’: Scientists point the finger at neglect of manufacturing as country relies on European firms and an Indian-owned company based in Wrexham to produce 2m doses a week of Oxford shot

Scientists have blamed the vaccine’s slow roll-out on the government’s lack of investment and neglect of manufacturing.

Sir John Bell, a regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and member of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), said that insufficient investment in the capacity to make vaccines has left Britain unprepared. 

He accused successive governments of failing to build onshore manufacturing capacity for medical products, with Oxford/AstraZeneca counting on outsourced companies to help create doses, such as Halix in the Netherlands, Cobra Biologics in Staffordshire and Oxford Biomedica.

After the vaccine is produced by those companies, it is transported to a plant based in Wrexham that is operated by an Indian company, Wockhardt, where it is either sent to another plant in Germany or transferred to vials.   

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty this week warned that vaccine availability issues will ‘remain the case for several months’ as firms struggle to keep up with global demand. 

In a bid to ration supplies, the Government has pledged to give single doses of the Pfizer vaccine to as many people as they can – rather than give a second dose to those already vaccinated.

But manufacturers of both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs have rubbished concerns, saying there is no problem with supply.

Sir Richard Sykes, who led a review of the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce in December, added that he is ‘not aware’ of a shortage in supply.   

The comments come after a further 53,285 people tested positive in Britain on Friday – marking four days in a row with more than 50,000 positive tests announced.

And 613 more people have died with the virus – including an eight-year-old child – taking the total official death toll to 74,125. 

The eight-year-old died in England on December 30 and had other health problems, the NHS said. 

At least one million Pfizer doses and some 530,000 Oxford doses will likely be given to patients across the country next week, The Daily Telegraph reports.

A member of the Oxford/AstraZeneca team has said that two million doses of the vaccine will be available per week in more than a fortnight, after AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot promised to deliver the mid-January target – meaning 24million could be immunised by Easter. 

Vaccine firms have rejected the Government's warnings of jab supply gaps lasting months, claiming there will be enough doses to hit the Government's ambitions targets (file image)

Vaccine firms have rejected the Government’s warnings of jab supply gaps lasting months, claiming there will be enough doses to hit the Government’s ambitions targets (file image)

Referring to governments over the past ten years, Sir Bell told The Times: ‘The government has been completely disinterested in building onshore manufacturing capacity for any of the life-sciences products.’ 

On vaccine production, he added: ‘When the pandemic started, we were not in great shape and I think we are probably paying the price for that.

‘It’s not AstraZeneca’s fault – it’s a national legacy issue, and it’s one of the things we’ve got to fix.’ 

The scientist mentioned that Britain struggles to produce other medical commodities, including monoclonal antibodies, to an extensive scale.

An Oxford/AstraZeneca source also told the newspaper that two million doses per week should be available rather quickly, by the third week of January.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted this morning: ‘Huge THANK YOU to everyone playing their part in the national effort to beat coronavirus. 

‘Over a million people have been vaccinated already. With the vaccine roll-out accelerating, the end is in sight & we will get through this together.’

The intervention by Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca, the developers of the UK’s only two approved Covid vaccines, came amid a row over ministers’ decision to ration vaccine supplies. 

Officials have said patients who already had one dose of the vaccine should have their second one – which they were told they’d get three weeks later – postponed for up to 12 weeks. 

In a statement published on Thursday night, the UK’s chief medical officers said the decision had been made on a ‘balance of risks and benefits’. 

Margaret Keenan returned to hospital this week to receive her second round of the Covid-19 vaccine, but thousands of other patients are set to see their appointments delayed under a new scheme aimed at getting more people to receive their first dose

Margaret Keenan returned to hospital this week to receive her second round of the Covid-19 vaccine, but thousands of other patients are set to see their appointments delayed under a new scheme aimed at getting more people to receive their first dose

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty, who warned that vaccine availability issues will 'remain the case for several months', pictured speaking during a coronavirus media briefing

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty, who warned that vaccine availability issues will ‘remain the case for several months’, pictured speaking during a coronavirus media briefing

Matt Hancock tweeted this morning: 'Over a million people have been vaccinated already. With the vaccine roll-out accelerating, the end is in sight & we will get through this together'

Matt Hancock tweeted this morning: ‘Over a million people have been vaccinated already. With the vaccine roll-out accelerating, the end is in sight & we will get through this together’

The medical officers are Professor Whitty (England), Dr Frank Atherton (Wales), Dr Gregor Smith (Scotland) and Dr Michael McBride (Northern Ireland). 

They said: ‘We have to ensure that we maximise the number of eligible people who receive the vaccine. 

‘Currently the main barrier to this is vaccine availability, a global issue, and this will remain the case for several months and, importantly, through the critical winter period. 

‘The availability of the AZ vaccine [Oxford/AstraZeneca] reduces, but does not remove, this major problem. Vaccine shortage is a reality that cannot be wished away.’

PFIZER HITS BACK AT UK PLAN TO GIVE PEOPLE ONE DOSE NOT TWO

Pfizer warned yesterday there is ‘no data’ to show a single dose of its coronavirus vaccine provides long-term protection after the UK scrapped its original jab rollout plan.

The UK medical regulator is now recommending Covid jabs are given in two doses three months apart, rather than four weeks apart, to allow millions more people to be immunised over a shorter time period.

The strategy will apply to both Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine and the newly approved jab by Oxford/AstraZeneca, despite limited data around the effectiveness of the initial doses.

It is a direct response to spiking Covid cases and hospitalisations across the UK that are being driven by a new, highly infectious strain that emerged in the South East of England in September.

Virtually the whole of England is facing brutal lockdown until the spring, with Covid vaccines the only hope of ending the devastation.

Health bosses now want to give as many people as possible an initial dose, rather than holding back the second doses, so more of the population can enjoy at least some protection.

AstraZeneca praised the move and revealed it had tested the three-month strategy on a small sub-group of trialists in its studies.

But Pfizer said there was ‘no data’ in its studies to show its vaccine protects against Covid when taken 12 weeks apart.

In a thinly-veiled swipe at the UK, the US firm warned that any ‘alternative’ dosing regimens should be closely monitored by health authorities.

‘Data from the phase three study demonstrated that, although partial protection from the vaccine appears to begin as early as 12 days after the first dose, two doses of the vaccine are required to provide the maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine efficacy of 95 per cent,’ Pfizer said in a statement.

‘There are no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.’ 

And they said there is no reason to suggest the vaccines will be any less effective if doses are given further apart than intended. 

The report added: ‘With most vaccines an extended interval between the prime and booster dose leads to a better immune response to the booster dose.

‘There is evidence that a longer interval between the first and second doses promotes a stronger immune response with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

‘There is currently no strong evidence to expect that the immune response from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would differ substantially from the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines.’ 

But doctors have revolted and said they won’t deny vulnerable patients the vaccines they promised them amid concerns the jabs won’t work as well with just one dose. 

GPs blasted the policy as ‘grossly unfair’ and frustrated scientists warned that clinical trials of the vaccine only tested how well it worked with a three-week gap, so there is no evidence the new regime would work long-term.

Sir Sykes, chairman of the Royal Institution and Imperial College Healthcare, also told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning: ‘I wasn’t aware there was a shortage.

‘I thought the difficulty was getting people vaccinated, and with the Pfizer vaccine that is quite difficult because of the conditions in which the vaccine has to be stored. 

‘But with the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, that should be very, very straightforward. 

‘Going to pharmacists, going to care homes, going to GP surgeries, there should be no restriction on the distribution of that vaccine.’

He added: ‘If the Government said that there’s a shortage then that must be the fact. If there is a shortage, that’s a problem.’  

Experts backing the policy change, however, have hit back and said every second dose that gets given is one more person missing out on their first, potentially life-saving vaccine. 

Former Department of Health vaccination chief Professor David Salisbury said: ‘Every time we give a second dose right now, we are holding that back from someone who is likely, if they get coronavirus, to die.’ 

The Government has not yet laid out whether there will be sanctions for doctors who refuse to switch to the one-dose policy, with one doctor saying NHS bosses had told her to use ‘clinical discretion’.  

Margaret Keenan, the first person in the world to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, received her second jab earlier this week.

But thousands of others across Britain will see their second appointment delayed so the NHS can focus on delivering jabs to more people.

A total of 944,539 people across the UK had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by December 27, according to the Department of Health.

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) warned the ‘ill thought-out’ plan to delay the second dose would leave many vulnerable staff in limbo.

GPs working for Black Country and West Birmingham NHS boards, as well as a doctor in Oxford, said they would honour the commitments they had made to patients.

No10 has pinned its hopes on the Oxford vaccine – which was approved this week – finally putting an end to the perpetual cycle of locking down and opening up, which has devastated the economy and wider healthcare.

But life is unlikely to go back to normal by Easter even if 24million people are vaccinated because two-thirds of the population will still be vulnerable to the disease. 

Scientists say herd immunity — when enough of a population becomes immune that the virus fizzles out — will only be achieved when 70 per cent of people are protected. Some experts in the US have warned the figure could be as high as 90 per cent. 

A shortage of doses, red tape strangling volunteer army, and a row over second jabs: DAVID ROSE asks if this will be the vaccine of freedom – or another fiasco in the making?

By David Rose for the Daily Mail

Just three days ago, Matt Hancock was basking in the glory of Oxford University’s astonishing achievement.

As its world-beating vaccine won approval from regulators, the Health Secretary toured the TV and radio studios, predicting that Britain’s coronavirus crisis would finally be over by Easter.

After all, ministers had ordered 100million doses of the ‘game-changer’ AstraZeneca vaccine, much more user-friendly than the Pfizer version already given to one million Britons.

And Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, assured us way back in May that 30million doses would be on the shelves by September, ready for roll-out as soon as it had that crucial clearance. 

More than that, an army of volunteers was – we were told – being recruited to take part in the biggest mass vaccination in British history.

Just three days ago, Matt Hancock was basking in the glory of Oxford University's astonishing achievement. As its world-beating vaccine won approval from regulators, the Health Secretary toured the TV and radio studios, predicting that Britain's coronavirus crisis would finally be over by Easter

Just three days ago, Matt Hancock was basking in the glory of Oxford University’s astonishing achievement. As its world-beating vaccine won approval from regulators, the Health Secretary toured the TV and radio studios, predicting that Britain’s coronavirus crisis would finally be over by Easter

They would complement the NHS, and quickly be able to deliver two million inoculations every week, starting with the most vulnerable.

As deaths and hospital admissions throughout the country spiralled horribly, this was, as the Prime Minister put it, our ‘beacon of hope’, our passport out of tiers and of lockdown, and of us starting to be able to live again.

After Government fiascos over personal protection equipment and a failed test and trace system, this was to be their shot at redemption. At last, in the dying days of the most terrible year, there was real hope that 2021 would be so much better.

Except, almost as soon as the initial euphoria had died down, nagging doubts began to emerge. Far from having millions of doses of the vaccine ready to roll-out, it has emerged that there are just 530,000 ready for the programme to begin on Monday.

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, admitted in an astonishing letter to doctors that, in fact, we are already facing vaccine shortages. Moreover, he said, they were likely to last for months.

And so the country’s medical experts signalled a sudden change in approach. The emphasis – which had been on inoculating the most vulnerable twice, with the doses separated by three weeks – was now to be on giving as many people as possible the initial dose.

Ministers ordered 100million doses of the ‘game-changer’ AstraZeneca vaccine, much more user-friendly than the Pfizer version already given to one million Britons… but far from having millions of doses of the vaccine ready to roll out, it has emerged that there are just 530,000 ready for the programme to begin on Monday

People would still get a second jab, but up to 12 weeks later. Elderly and vulnerable people inoculated once were told the appointments for their second dose were being cancelled.

And instead of a vaccination army ready to help the biggest inoculation drive in British history, it emerged volunteers were caught up in red-tape. Even retired doctors and nurses looking to help out face a mind-boggling list of 21 hurdles to clear.

So are these simply teething problems, or something more fundamental? And where does it leave the ambition of two million vaccines a week and freedom by Easter?

What has happened to supplies?

For months the Government has been boasting of its close relationship with Oxford and AstraZeneca, and how, when the time came, this would ensure a smooth vaccine roll-out. 

Yet this week, asked why our current stocks are so unexpectedly low, Government sources were advising journalists they should ‘ask AstraZeneca’. There had been rumours of problems with glass phials, which were denied. There were some limited admissions from sources close to the company about batch control.

Compare us with India, where the Oxford jab is being made under licence. There are already at least 50million doses stockpiled at a giant factory in Pune, ready to go. Britain has less than 1 per cent of that to roll-out on Monday.

Last night one senior medical source, a viral vaccines expert who has been advising the Government, suggested the reason is the ‘messy data’ from Oxford’s clinical trials. 

These suggested that giving an initial half-dose, followed by a full one four weeks later, was more effective than two full doses – a finding that emerged when trial participants were given the low dose by mistake.

Asked why our current stocks are so unexpectedly low, Government sources were advising journalists they should 'ask AstraZeneca'. Above, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University

Asked why our current stocks are so unexpectedly low, Government sources were advising journalists they should ‘ask AstraZeneca’. Above, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University

‘They didn’t go all-out to get in supplies for the start of the year because getting approval was taking longer than it did for Pfizer,’ the source said.

Another reason for the delay is that the Oxford vaccine needs to spend 20 days in sterilisation before it can be used, while each new batch has to be checked by regulators.

But Professor Adam Finn of Bristol University, a member of the Government’s official Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI), insisted the picture was less gloomy than it might seem.

There was, he said, ‘an overwhelming argument’ in favour of widening the dosage gap to protect more people sooner, even though this was a result of shortages.

He added: ‘The UK is actually doing alright compared to other places. There are difficulties in rolling the vaccines out – but something as complicated as this has never been done before.

‘I’m personally impressed we’ve already managed to vaccinate 900,000 people – and now the use of the Oxford vaccine is going to make it much easier to target the elderly.’

Is lengthening time between doses bad?

Some experts believe that lengthening the gap between first and second dose from three to 12 weeks may actually improve protection, at least in the case of the Oxford vaccine.

But Pfizer has signalled it is unhappy its vaccine will be used in Britain in a way never envisaged when it passed its clinical trials. 

Professor Whitty explained the controversial change in his letter to doctors: ‘For every 1,000 people boosted with a second dose of Covid-19 vaccine in January, 1,000 people can’t have substantial initial protection, which is in most cases likely to raise them from 0 per cent protected to at least 70 per cent protected.’

He continued: ‘These unvaccinated people are far more likely to end up severely ill, hospitalised and in some cases dying without the vaccine.’ In other words, in a cost-benefit analysis, opting for the new approach means more people are protected.

But could it be risky?

Professor Finn said with the Pfizer vaccine, people who got their first jab would soon have 91 per cent protection. That figure would rise only marginally to 95 per cent after their second.

‘Vaccines going into more arms will save more lives’, he said.

According to the official committee on which he sits, data shows that the American Moderna vaccine – approved for use in the US, but not yet in Britain – is very similar to the Pfizer jab. It seems to grant protection from a single dose for at least 15 weeks – and it is this that the JCVI have used in coming to the decision about the Pfizer jab.

Yet Deenan Pillay, professor of virology at University College London, and a leading member of the UK Virologists’ Network, said there was a ‘theoretical possibility’ that delays in giving a second dose might encourage new mutations. He said: ‘Of course, I see there the argument that if you maximise the numbers who get an initial dose, that will be beneficial. But there is a theoretical risk.’

Professor Finn dismissed this. ‘This kind of speculation is not helpful. But we need to be astute about the mutations that do occur and whether they mean we need to alter the vaccine.’

So how HAS Israel hit 1million in just 12 days?

Britain has already been put to shame by one country – by last night, Israel had immunised a million people, or more than a tenth of its entire population.

Moreover, it has been achieved with the awkward Pfizer vaccine, which has to be stored at -70C, and the country started vaccinating 12 days ago – a fortnight after the UK.

From the moment the vaccine was approved for use in Israel, sports stadiums and other large venues were put to use, following long-drawn-up plans.

Britain has already been put to shame by one country – by last night, Israel had immunised a million people, or more than a tenth of its entire population. (Above, a medical worker in Tel Aviv)

Britain has already been put to shame by one country – by last night, Israel had immunised a million people, or more than a tenth of its entire population. (Above, a medical worker in Tel Aviv)

Not only the over-80s but all those over 60 are already being vaccinated, along with health workers and teachers, by organised, dedicated teams, which were recruited and trained weeks ago.

According to the Israeli health ministry, 41 per cent of people over 60 have been given the jab.

Meanwhile, a million vaccines made by US firm Moderna – which are much easier to store – are set to arrive in the country next week.

Britain did not order the Moderna vaccine until it got US approval last month, and supplies are not set to arrive in the UK until April.

A medical worker administers the Pfizer vaccine in a care home in Tel Aviv on New Year's Eve

A medical worker administers the Pfizer vaccine in a care home in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Eve

Israel is enduring its third national lockdown. But its vaccination rate means that all vulnerable patients are likely to have been immunised by the end of this month, with full herd immunity following close behind.

The British Government has claimed it wants normal life to resume by Easter, in early April – a goal that currently looks unattainable.

Yet in Israel, it is likely that restrictions will end well before the Jewish festival of Purim – on February 25.

Jews celebrate Purim, which commemorates their liberation from the Persian tyrant Ahasuerus, by dancing and drinking. This year, the festivities may be especially joyous.

What about those waiting for 2nd dose?

Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster, was overjoyed to get her first jab three weeks ago, and had been scheduled to complete her treatment next week. She was looking forward to dinner with a friend later this month, and resuming her life. Now she is now left in limbo.

Mrs Bakewell, 87, writes in the Mail today: ‘I’ve heard nothing from my GP or clinic, and have no idea if my life will go back to normal at the end of this month, or not until the end of March. Until I do, nothing is certain.’

The British Medical Association says it believes that ‘existing commitments’ to give a second jab to patients who have already had their first ‘should be respected, and if GPs decide to honour these booked appointments in January, the BMA will support them’.

Richard Vautrey, head of the BMA’s GP committee, said not meeting this would be ‘grossly unfair to tens of thousands of our most at risk patients.’

Vinesh Patel, of the Doctors’ Association UK, urged the Government to think again: ‘A patient can’t consent for a treatment then have it changed without their permission, especially when the evidence for change is lacking.’

Where is the army of vaccinators?

Many GPs have been saying for weeks they are already too busy to shoulder the burden of immunising millions – and ministers had a plan, apparently.

Recruiting a volunteer army was to be key in helping deliver its two million doses a week – and much more so now hospitals are again overwhelmed as the second wave of the virus comes close to the levels experienced in April.

There has been talk of this new force of ten thousand or more for months, yet even retired health professionals – as the Daily Mail revealed yesterday – are facing inexplicable bureaucratic hurdles against joining it, such as providing evidence of their diversity and human rights training.

Nicola Thomas, a professor of kidney care at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, said: ‘To be asked for proof of address, two references and additional e-learning, including fire safety is really too much to bear.’ 

Michael Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: ‘Some of these bureaucratic demands are ridiculous, such as the requirement to be certified in ‘fire safety’, ‘conflict resolution’ and ‘preventing radicalisation’.’

The signs yesterday were that these restrictions will be eased – but quite how is yet to be explained.

And yesterday, a new problem emerged: not only a shortage of civilian vaccinators, but a shortage of people qualified to interview them for the job – a process which may add a further delay of weeks.

Will we still escape all this by Easter?

Buffeted by so many aspects of the crisis, perhaps it’s not surprising senior Government sources reacted with deep hostility to questions about the target of normal life by Easter. 

One source close to the Health Secretary even suggested this newspaper’s attempts to subject them to scrutiny suggested we were somehow ‘anti-vaccination’ – when the very opposite is true. As our editorials have made clear, the Mail is certain that vaccination is indeed the pathway to normality.

The suggestion is that there were robust answers to all of this. Trouble is, they are failing to deliver them convincingly.

Mr Hancock said of the one million vaccinations being reached: ‘It is fantastic that we have reached this milestone, and we continue to accelerate the vaccine roll-out.’

It is understood there are four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine now being prepared and checked, and still awaiting clearance. So there is room for some optimism. As for the roll-out, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says the Army is ready to administer 750,000 vaccines a week.

But the stakes could hardly be higher. While the public tolerated PPE scandals and failures on test and trace, another fiasco on vaccines may be a failure too far.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk