Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham column: We are moving in the right direction

This week has been an incredibly busy one, with my focus firmly fixed on our vaccination rollout; making sure that speed is of the essence and everybody in the first four priority groups receive protection against this terrible virus.
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And with over 10 million people so far having had a Covid-19 vaccination across the UK there is plenty to be positive about.

Not just that we are moving in the right direction with lightning speed, but that in doing so we can protect those most at risk within Burnley and Padiham, and in time move back to a position of normality; something I know all of us are desperately seeking.

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It’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of all those involved in the vaccine delivery programme, including the amazing staff and volunteers I was fortunate enough to meet at the St Peter’s Centre at the end of last week.

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham during his visit to the St Peter's CentreBurnley MP Antony Higginbotham during his visit to the St Peter's Centre
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham during his visit to the St Peter's Centre

I saw first-hand how organised the whole process was, including the selflessness of volunteers from our borough who have rolled up their sleeves and continue to make such a difference.

Stopping the spread of this virus, at the same time as rolling out the vaccine, is crucial, and given the opening of three testing stations within Burnley, which are offering rapid testing to those unable to work from home (which operate in addition to the Centenary Way site), we can see that together our efforts to defeat coronavirus are working.

The target of mid-February for the top four priority groups now looks very likely to be met, and I know the NHS are preparing for the extension to groups five to nine from then on, allowing us to further widen the number of people that can be protected.

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And speaking with the UK Ambassador to Israel earlier this week it is clear that a focus on speed to those in the highest risk cohorts is the most pragmatic and effective way to proceed.

In Israel, a country which has also moved quickly, they are seeing a material reduction in infections.

Whilst it is still too early for us to properly assess the results of our own roll-out, it does give an indication of what is to come.

And the latest data, which is still to be formally published and peer-reviewed, is suggesting that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has a substantial effect on transmission, meaning that each person who is vaccinated will indirectly protect other people too.

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That is why continued supply of the vaccine is of paramount important.

Given we have seen deeply irresponsible actions from the European Commission over the past week I used my time in the House of Commons on Tuesday to ask the Cabinet Office Secretary to confirm that whatever action the EU may take, our supply of the vaccine to every part of the UK is secure.

He confirmed this is the case with UK manufacturers playing their part, and the EU having now given a commitment on supply into the UK.

The Government is also always looking for new vaccination centres to support the roll-out, as part of the plan to protect residents across Burnley, Padiham, and the whole country, and this is something I have been speaking to the Vaccine Deployment Minister about for a number of weeks.

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I'm pleased that the further site in Burnley is now looking very likely, ready for when supply of the vaccine increases further, and I'll continue to make our case to Ministers.

Finally, I’d like to comment on the passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore; a giant who inspired millions and gave us hope in the darkest of times. I know that each of us will be saddened by the news, but he will be remembered for showing the best of our country. Courage, determination and duty. Sleep well Captain Sir Tom Moore.