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Piers and Susanna question Matt Hancock on the vaccine rollout and the free school meal scandal

Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared on today’s Good Morning Britain to discuss the row over the delay on the second dose of the vaccine, admitting that supply is the ‘constraint’ in this issue, and weighed in on the free school meals scandal.

Speaking to Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, he spoke about the upset over the delay for the second vaccine being moved from three to twelve weeks.

Explaining the thinking behind the decision, he said: “This is an incredibly important question that we looked into in great detail. It is only because you get that protection two to three weeks after your first jab that we can make this decision. We know from the trials that from around 12 days after the first jab, you start to get that protection, and the protection from catching the disease is 89 percent after the first two weeks and that compares to 95 percent once you have the two jabs but crucially, the protection against having serious disease, being hospitalised or dying, is even higher than that and in the case of the Oxford jab, is 100 percent.”

Asked whether the protection is compromised if you wait twelve weeks, he insisted that “that level of protection is maintained. The Chief Medical Officer has looked into this… the reason that we have moved the second jab to twelve weeks is so that we can protect as many people as possible and secondly we are confident that the protection is maintained.”

Challenged about why the United States are not following our lead, he said: “One of the advantages of the UK is, because we have the National Health Service, we can make these decisions based on what is the best decision for everyone. The way I look at it is if you had two grandparents both in their 80s and two doses of the vaccine, would you dose one of them twice or both of them once? And given the level of protection you get from one dose, I would dose both of them once each, every time. It is an absolute slam dunk in terms of saving lives.”

Asked how many vaccines he has at his disposal right now, he said: “We have enough to be able to hit the target of vaccinating the four most at-risk groups by 15th February, arriving in time to do that. It is a ‘just in time’ delivery system. As the vaccine becomes available and gets approved, because each batch has to be tested, it gets shipped out…”

Asked if there is a supply issue, he said: “Of course, if I had more supply, we would go faster. Because, as you say, there are GPs that say they could do more than they could be doing at the moment. So the constraint is supply, but that is not because the supply is coming slower than the schedule. It is coming on schedule and then we get it out the door.”

On why he isn’t doing the 24/7 rollout, he said: “We are up for that. If that will speed up the delivery… but because the rate limiting stuff is supply, most people would prefer to be vaccinated in the middle of the day and most vaccinators would rather work in the day but I don’t rule that out, especially for shift workers for instance… the good news is that we are managing to get it out into arms as quickly as the two companies are delivering it to us.”

On teachers being the next in line to get the jab, he said: “I think they have got a very good case for that after the clinically vulnerable. We have got to vaccinate the clinically vulnerable people first because that is what prevents people from dying… Once we have got through the clinically vulnerable groups we have got a debate to have as a nation about where we go next and I think that teachers, police officers and shop workers have got a good case that they should be next as opposed to just carrying on through the age range once we have done the clinically vulnerable… it is certainly something we are looking at but we haven’t made a final decision on it yet.”

He continued: “We are monitoring the rollout now because how we go through the next groups will in part be determined by how much the vaccine reduces how much you transmit the virus, as well as how much it protects you from it.”

Asked when he will know that crucial information, he said: “In the next couple of weeks, so before the 15th of February I hope.”

On whether tougher restrictions will be brought in and when they might decide that, he added: “The answer is that we look at it all the time… it typically takes about a week for an increase in infections in real life to turn up in the data and then another week for that to turn up in hospital admissions… I am looking now, a week and a bit on from bringing in the national lockdown, I am looking to see the case rate just starting to level off over the next few days. The few days ahead of us are the critical period to see whether the national lockdown is working.”

On the food parcel furore, he agreed with Piers that it was a complete disgrace. “Absolutely, the company have apologised for what they have sent out and I am really glad this surfaced on social media. People complain about social media, but I think this is one of the upsides of it. I am glad that they have apologised, they have clearly got to up their game. I want to see good high-quality food, I am really glad that we are able to send out food for those who receive free school meals when schools are in and I am really glad that we are able to do that when schools are out.”

Asked if he regrets initially voting against the free school meals initiative, he declined to give a yes or no answer, saying: “I am really glad that the situation has been resolved.”

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