Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock will celebrate the success of the largest vaccination programme in British history in a speech today (Wednesday 2 June).
Speaking in Oxford – the beating heart of scientific brilliance in fighting COVID-19 and home to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – the Health Secretary will praise the ‘extraordinary vaccine heroes’ who have worked tirelessly to administer more than 65 million total vaccines across the UK. It is expected that three quarters of adults in the UK will receive their first dose by today (Wednesday).
He will reflect on crucial decisions that were made early in the vaccination programme and how the UK drew on the best talent from across the civil service, NHS, armed forces and private sector to build the ‘finest team’ and the ‘single greatest asset’ to turn the tide on the pandemic.
The speech will praise the phenomenal dedication of the public to get their jabs, with data published by YouGov showing the UK continues to top the list of nations where people are willing to have a COVID-19 vaccine or have already been vaccinated. ONS data published on 6 May found that more than 9 in 10 (93%) adults reported positive sentiment towards the vaccine.
The speech – taking place at the Jenner Institute in Oxford at 2.25pm ahead of the UK-hosted G7 Health Ministers’ Meetings this week – will focus on four major lessons learned during the pandemic including start early; draw on your strengths; take and manage risks and back the team.
The Health Secretary is expected to say:“Even before the first COVID-19 case arrived in the UK we’d started the work on how to develop, procure and roll out the vaccines that would ultimately make us safe.
“I was told a vaccine had never been developed against any human coronavirus. We dared to believe … and we started early. We put out a call for research in February. By March, we were supporting six different projects, including the Oxford vaccine, alongside the vital work on treatments – including the RECOVERY trial, which led to the discovery of dexamethasone, the first proven treatment to reduce coronavirus mortality. These two projects, together, have already saved over a million lives.”
Draw on your strengths
The Health Secretary is expected to say:“First, we have a universal healthcare system with a trusted brand, our NHS. The NHS has performed with distinction throughout this pandemic, and it has deserved every plaudit that has come its way.
“Next, we massively benefited from our scientific strength. Over centuries, we have built one of the greatest scientific capabilities in the world, and we must always support it.
“One of our greatest strengths is the strength of our Union. We negotiated and bought vaccines for the whole country, we allocated them according to need and we worked with the NHS, devolved administrations, and local councils everywhere and we called upon the logistical heft of the British Armed Forces to help get them in arms.”
Take and manage risks
The Health Secretary is expected to say:“The biggest risk would have been the failure to find a vaccine at all. So we explicitly embraced risk early on. So we backed lots of horses and invested at risk.
“And instead of sitting back and waiting to see which vaccines came off, we were tenacious in helping them to get over the line, drawing on the abundant industry experience in our team.
“We helped to bring together Oxford and AstraZeneca and bring them to the table, a partnership which has been a lifeline, not just here, but in the developing world. We offered funding for the early manufacture of the vaccines, before we knew whether they would work and we backed manufacturing plants too. Like funding the Valneva facility in Livingston and sending a team to help the Halix plant in the Netherlands to scale up.”
Back the team
The Health Secretary is expected to say:“We had to move fast, embrace change and learn quickly from our mistakes and bring the best people to the table – the finest team that I’ve ever been part of.
“A perfect example of this is our Vaccine Taskforce. Last April, we worked to pull together a team with all the different disciplines that we needed, in one place, with one mission. And this diverse team, diverse in background and perspectives, helped us to create one of the most diverse vaccine portfolios in the world.
“The team who worked on our vaccination programme was the single greatest asset that we had in this crisis.”