Hopes rise as London cases fall but capital is second lowest for vaccine rollout

Ross Lydall,Nicholas Cecil and Joe Murphy
·6-min read
<p>A leading expert on Covid claimed that anti-London sentiment may have caused the capital to lose out </p> (AFP via Getty Images)

A leading expert on Covid claimed that anti-London sentiment may have caused the capital to lose out

(AFP via Getty Images)

Pressure grew on ministers today to speed up the vaccine roll-out in London as official figures suggested the capital is lagging behind other regions.

At least 200,000 Londoners have been given the Covid jab, the official statistics showed — but Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “hugely concerned” that just a tenth of the jabs nationally were given in the city.

Health sources suggested the NHS in London had been slower to set up GP hubs as vaccine centres.

But Downing Street today insisted that London has had “a fair share” of Covid-19 vaccine, as NHS England insisted that it had “got off to a strong start” and said the most up-to-date figure was that a quarter of a million Londoners had been vaccinated.

It came on the day that one expert said admissions to London hospitals may be plateauing and cases had fallen in 11 boroughs.

That breaks down, taking into account second doses, into 199,986 Londoners having had the jab, including 107,588 people aged up to 80, and 92,398 people aged over 80.

London’s total is the second lowest of the regions. The Midlands delivered 447,329 jabs; the North-East And Yorkshire 433,045; North-West 318,445; South-East 411,257; South-West 285,332; and East of England 236,023.

Mr Khan was not satisfied. He said: “I am hugely concerned that Londoners have received only a tenth of the vaccines that have been given across the country.

“The situation in London is critical with rates of the virus extremely high, which is why it’s so important that vulnerable Londoners are given access to the vaccine as soon as possible.

“I have repeatedly called on the Government to scale up the vaccine supply, and will be meeting the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment today to ensure that we urgently receive an amount of the vaccine that reflects our size, density and the level of need in our city.”

A spokesman for the NHS in London said: “The NHS coronavirus vaccination programme, the biggest in the health service’s history, has got off to a strong start with a quarter of a million Londoners receiving their first vaccination against Covid, giving significant protection to those most at risk from the virus, by last Sunday.

“We have more than 100 vaccination sites up and running across London, including the NHS Covid-19 Vaccination Centre in the ExCeL London, and more are opening all the time.

“London is getting its fair share of vaccine supply for the priority groups we have to vaccinate by mid February.”

A senior health official said: “London is getting its fair share of vaccines and over the coming days and weeks the vaccine rollout across the capital will continue to accelerate.”

A leading expert on Covid claimed that anti-London sentiment may have caused the capital to lose out — and that a failure to publish borough-level data on vaccine roll-out and take-up could exacerbate inequalities.

Professor Christina Pagel, of University College London, said she was shocked at the Standard’s revelation that the capital was receiving fewer doses than other parts of the country despite having the highest infection rates.

Professor Pagel, a leading member of Independent Sage expert group, said: “I had assumed they would be prioritising the high-incidence regions. I would have thought it would have made sense to have shifted supplies towards London and the South-East. But people are so sensitive about London. You can imagine the outcry if that did happen.”

She called on the Government to publish daily vaccine data showing how many jabs were being offered — and accepted — by borough, to enable “hotspot” areas to be highlighted.

She said: “There is a lot of evidence that uptake is generally weaker in deprived communities and non-white communities, and these are the people at greater risk from Covid.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We have ensured that every area receives a fair share of the vaccinations, we will continue to do that.”

He said the vaccination program will accelerate over this month and February. Asked why London was lagging behind all but one region in numbers of jabs, the No 10 spokesman said: “As I said, we will continue to ensure that every area continues to receive that their fair share.

“We have seen in London, the development of the ExCeL centre as a vaccination centre, to ensure we can deliver it as quickly as possible to as many people as possible.”

No 10 said the Government was looking into opening 24-hour vaccine centres, despite comments by Health Minister Lord Bethell who thought it was not possible. The Prime Minister yesterday said 24-hour centres would open “as soon as we can” but no decisions have been taken.

The Standard revealed on Wednesday that London was being sent fewer doses of the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines per head of population because of the formula used by the Government that distributes doses equally to groups of GP practices, known as primary care networks.

Mr Khan today urged vaccines deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi to correct the formula. He said: “This has been raised by partners across London.”

The NHS has set a new earlier deadline of January 24 for vaccinating all elderly people in care homes.

Mr Khan, in his letter to Mr Zahawi, said: “I am seeking reassurance that the supply of the vaccine and the logistics of delivery to Primary Care Networks will not remain limiting factors in rolling out the vaccine at speed. This has been raised by partners across London.

“London must receive its fair share of the vaccine supply, proportionate to the size and density of our population and level of need.

“You mentioned that you expect the distribution to be scaled up as more vaccines are made available. However, if the formula is still based on an equitable distribution to PCNs I am concerned this will result in London, and other areas with large populations, securing insufficient vaccine doses to protect their populations.”

Mr Khan said he was concerned that a “large number” of health and social care workers had yet to be vaccinated in London.

He said there was also a need to tackle “vaccine hesitancy” – including BAME communities more likely to refuse a jab.

He revealed City Hall officials had been in touch with health officials in the Israeli government and suggested the UK follow Israel in establishing a “national help centre” to field inquiries about the vaccine and correct misinformation on social media and via direct messaging campaigns.

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