PRIVATEERS must not be allowed to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine if we are to avoid a repeat of the test and trace fiasco, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said yesterday.
It came after Britain became the first nation to approve the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, with ministers saying that vaccinations could begin next week.
Studies have shown the jab to be 95 per cent effective and to work in all age groups.
Britain has already ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, which is set to be given to 20 million people in two doses delivered 21 days apart.
About 10 million doses are soon expected to be available for priority groups, which at the start of the first phase include care home residents and their carers, all those aged 80 years and above, and front-line health and social care workers.
It will go on include those aged between 50 and 75, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and those aged 16 to 64 who are at higher risk due to underlying health conditions.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that pregnant women should not get the vaccine because there is “no data as yet on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines in pregnancy.”
The TUC said that ministers must now learn lessons from failures on test and trace and personal protective equipment (PPE) provision by ensuring that the vaccine rollout is led by public professionals, not private contractors.
The congress has published a five-step plan for the government which it says would ensure effective distribution and take-up of the vaccine.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The best way to deliver an effective rollout — and build public trust in the vaccine — is for local public health teams to run it. They know their communities best and are best placed to reach them.
“Outsourcing test and trace to private contractors has caused huge problems. We cannot afford the same mistake to be made with the delivery of the vaccine.”
Ms O’Grady warned that the test and trace programme has not “supported people to do the right thing.”
“People are still not being given the level of sick pay they need to self-isolate and are then hit with large fines for not complying,” she said.
“Allowing workers paid time off to get vaccinated will help make things easier.”
Public ownership campaign Global Justice Now tweeted: “Imagine how it would feel today if the vaccine was being shared with every country according to need, rather than patented for profit and sold mainly to the rich?”
Prospect, the union which represents workers in scientific bodies, meanwhile criticised the government for freezing the wages of Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) staff while lauding their work on approving the vaccine.
Deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “Often working at all hours, their expertise is the epitome of public service and gives hope to millions of fellow workers across the country.
“This makes it all the more shameful that the government froze the pay of MHRA staff and other public servants last week.
“While the PM is lauding this great achievement at his press conference, he must also show his appreciation by reversing the pay freeze.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford warned that the effects of the vaccine may not be seen for “many months” and urged people to continue to follow the rules.
People in Wales will be sent automatic appointments to receive the vaccination, his government said, but being vaccinated will not be mandatory.
Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed that authorities expect vaccinations to begin from next Tuesday, and that they intend to treat the vaccinators first, followed by priority groups recommended by the JCVI.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that delivering the vaccine will be a “massive, massive operation” but added that the plans are already “well developed.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard called for the vaccines to be rolled out “safely but quickly.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie urged the government to update MSPs and the public “at the earliest opportunity” on how exactly it will facilitate the rollout.
Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We should all reinforce that vaccination saves lives and work together to promote uptake.
“NHS and public health now need support and resources to roll out the vaccination.”
Labour MP Richard Burgon said the vaccine “must be distributed for free and allocated to those most in need.”
“No-one should be able to pay to queue-jump.”