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Give us the right vaccines to open up London

·5-min read
People queue outside a vaccination centre in Harrow (REUTERS)
People queue outside a vaccination centre in Harrow (REUTERS)

London health chiefs have requested extra supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines so that they can tackle worryingly low levels of take-up in the capital, the Evening Standard can reveal.

They want to rush out doses to hundreds of thousands of younger people across the capital to help slow the transmission of the more dangerous Delta (Indian) variant.

London health officials are understood to have requested 367,000 extra Pfizer and Moderna doses — which can be safely given to younger age groups — on top of existing supplies.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has also raised the issue directly with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.

Despite 7.8 million doses being given to Londoners, the capital has the lowest vaccination level of any region or nation in the UK, by a wide margin. Some 68.6 per cent of Londoners have had a first jab, compared with 79.2 per cent nationally. Some 43.4 per cent of Londoners have had a second jab, compared with 56.9 per cent nationally.

London would need 3.6m more jabs in the next five weeks to hit Boris Johnson’s target to get two-thirds of Londoners fully vaccinated. This consists of 2,128,789 more first jabs and 1,544,282 second jabs.

On Monday night the Prime Minister told the Standard he was “concerned” by the lower take-up of vaccination among London’s population.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said areas of London with lower vaccination rates should be concentrated on to push up jab numbers.

On Tuesday, Mayor Mr Khan said: “Ministers must accelerate the roll-out of the vaccines so that restrictions can be lifted as soon as possible.

“London has a young population, so it’s essential that the Government allocates the capital more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to allow us to rapidly provide first doses to younger age groups, while bringing forward second doses. This final push will help us to return to doing more of the things we love and to open up our economy.”

NHS London and Public Health England have been liaising closely with City Hall and are understood to be in agreement that extra doses are needed. One health source said a “practical attitude” was being taken by doctors and health officials that younger people outside the official target groups should not be turned away from vaccination centres.

“If there is an arm in front of them, they do not want that arm to wander off,” said the source.

The Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine is no longer recommended for the under-40s, which is why the other brands are being requested for the catch-up drive.

The main reasons for London’s lower vaccination levels are hesitancy among older members of Bame communities, and the fact that the capital boasts a younger population, which has lower priority for jabs. The average age in London is 35.6 compared with the UK average of 40.3. NHS London, which is in charge of the roll-out in the capital, would not comment directly on the lower rate in London compared with all other regions.

Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London, said: “We are continuing to make vaccination even more convenient for Londoners by extending opening hours and offering more choice of where to be vaccinated, and doctors, nurses, volunteers and community champions are offering people the opportunity to ask questions and to support them in having a safe, effective Covid-19 vaccine, which could save their life and the lives of their loved ones.”

More vaccination buses, community pharmacies, pop-up and walk-in centres as well as local GPs and large vaccination centres have been launched across the city. Responding to the Evening Standard at Monday night’s No 10 press conference, the Prime Minister said: “A huge number of Londoners have come forward and can be very proud of what they are doing, but I think it would be great if we can get those rates up even higher.”

A Department of Health spokesperson hinted London will get more doses by saying the Government will be “putting more supply into areas that have more to do” and that it was “confident in our vaccine supplies”.

She said: “Our vaccination programme is making tremendous progress, with more than 71 million doses delivered including almost 8 million vaccines administered in London already. We are confident in our vaccine supplies as we rollout to younger age groups.

“Vaccines are being distributed fairly across the UK and we recognise parts of the country have made more significant progress and gone slightly faster than others.

“That is why we are extending opening hours and access to vaccine sites and putting more supply into areas that have more to do as the rollout of vaccinations continues to expand at pace as we work to offer a first dose to all adults by 19 July.”

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said that vaccination rates in the capital were “higher than many countries would really dream of having at this point in time”. But he confirmed that London’s rates were “behind by around, in some areas, 10 per cent” compared with other parts of the country.

“They are high,” he told the news conference. “But they should be even higher.” Setting out the reasons for the slower take-up, he said more Londoners moved around, and records were “less clear cut”. He also said lower rates of vaccination were also seen in other major UK cities.

“What we need to do is concentrate on these areas where the rates are lower, because we want to get all of them right up to the very highest rates.”

Professor Matt Keeling, of Warwick university, said he feared there would be “diminishing demand” for vaccines as the roll-out moved to the youngest age groups. He revealed modellers “did not have a good handle” on the number of vaccines needed in London due to uncertainty about the size of the capital’s population.

“London has already experienced two very, very large outbreaks,” he said. “In some way they have more herd immunity than the rest of the country. I don’t think there is a good reason why we should focus more vaccine on London.”

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