Boris declines to back faster vaccine rollout for Lancashire - but the county says it will keep asking

The Prime Minister would not be drawn on calls for Lancashire to be prioritised for a more rapid rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, when he made a brief visit to the county - prompting the chief executive of Lancashire County Council to say that the region will keep making its case nevertheless.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 12:42 am

Boris Johnson was asked about repeated pleas from the directors of public health at Lancashire County Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council - Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi and Professor Dominic Harrison - for Lancashire to be enabled to forge ahead of other parts of the country in delivering the jabs.

Dr. Karunanithi has previously said that there is an “economic, moral and biosecurity case” for doing so, because of persistently higher rates of infection in areas like Preston - even during the current lockdown - local inequalities and the risk of new variants emerging while a significant part of the population is yet to be vaccinated.

Professor Harrison has called for “proportionate universalism” - deploying the vaccine at a greater rate in those areas more badly affected by the virus in order to achieve the same result everywhere.

Boris Johnson at a owning Street briefing in 2020
Boris Johnson at a owning Street briefing in 2020

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Prior to last week’s news of an impending slowdown in vaccine supply nationally, Lancashire had set “an ambition” of giving the entire adult application both doses by 31st July - when the national target is to have offered only a first jab by that date.

Asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service if - supply-permitting - he would support Lancashire’s aim to go further and faster than the national target, Mr. Johnson instead explained the rationale for the government’s nationwide approach.

“I think what everyone would like to see is real concentration on getting the most vulnerable and vaccine-hesitant groups properly inoculated first - I think that’s where I feel the country is.

“We know the risks, we know how it works - overwhelmingly, you can reduce the risk of serious infection and death if you target the most vulnerable in an efficient way, so I think that’s what I would urge,” said Mr. Johnson, who also thanked Lancashire NHS and council staff for their work on the rollout and congratulated them on “the speed that they have been going”.

Asked about that response at a briefing held by the Lancashire Resilience Forum later in the day, Dr. Karunanithi said he could not comment directly, as he had not been party to exactly what the Prime Minister had to say - but he added:

“Vaccines prevent deaths and severe disease - that objective has largely been achieved and is being achieved. New scientific evidence strongly suggests vaccines also prevent transmission.

“The life of a 40-year-old frontline worker from [one of] our deprived wards isn't the same as the life of a 40-year-old in the south west of the country - and without faster acceleration of the vaccination programme in areas with enduring transmission, the public are going to find it difficult to disrupt the transmission [of the virus],” Dr. Karunanithi said.

County Hall chief executive Angie Ridgwell - who also chairs the Lancashire Resilience Forum, which is leading the county’s response to the pandemic - said councils and the NHS in the region would continue “to ask government to increase the speed with which we can vaccinate in Lancashire, given the structural challenges we have”.

“That is our commitment to the people of Lancashire. But there are elements that the people of Lancashire can control themselves - when they are invited to have a vaccine, they can take that up.

“Our NHS colleagues are working really hard and rolling out the vaccine as fast as supplies will let them. So it is in our gift to take up those offers.”