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'More than enough' vaccines for under-30s

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The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told Sky News there's "more than enough" doses of Pfizer and Moderna for under-30s.

Video Transcript

- Well, let's talk to the health secretary. Matt Hancock joins us now. Good to see you this morning. Look, how concerned are you that this is going to cause some sort of drop off in vaccine uptake?

MATT HANCOCK: Well, there's no need for that. We have seen this incredible level of uptake of the vaccine in this country. And what we've learned in the last 24 hours is the-- the rollout of the vaccine is working. We've seen that the safety system is working, because the regulators can spot, even this extremely rare event, four in a million, and take necessary action to ensure that the rollout is as safe as it possibly can be.

And we're seeing that the vaccine is working. It's breaking the link between cases and deaths. The number of people dying from COVID halved again, just in the last nine days since I last spoke to you and is down 98% from the peak. So we-- we can have confidence. people can take confidence that we have a system that we are extremely careful on the safety front, but that the rollout is progressing at pace. So when-- when you get the call, get the jab.

- Do you think the MHR, the regulator was-- was-- was right to raise this concern in the way it has? I mean, Ian Duncan Smith has said you know, this is a-- a gift to the anti-vaxxers. They're just going to turn around and say, we told you so.

MATT HANCOCK: Well, thankfully in this country, we've seen this amazing level of take-up. Far higher than I would have possibly expected. You know, if you'd asked me three months ago if we'd get to this level of takeup, I-- I couldn't have believed it, frankly. It's over 90% in all over 60s groups and in the clinically extremely vulnerable. Over 99% of people have been coming forward for their second jab, 99.4%. That's an incredible rate.

And I think people can be reassured that we have the high-class safety system run by our world-class regulator, if you like, the MHRA. And then we're totally transparent with all of the side effects, no matter how extremely rare they are, like these ones.

And it means that independent people, like I just heard you had the head of the British Medical Association-- he's totally independent of government. But as a doctor, as a GP, he can look at the data that we published, and he's come to his own conclusion. And his conclusion is that you should get the jab, because this is our way out of the pandemic.

- But it does raise questions about the-- the amount of concern it does cause. And of course, that's inevitable. I mean, when you pause distributing a certain vaccine to the under 30s that is going to cause concern.

And yet as you said, you know, the risk here seems to be four people out of every million, while the contraceptive pill carries a risk of five people developing blood clots in every 10,000. So if people find it acceptable to take the contraceptive pill, they're not worrying about that potential side effect, particularly, is it right to have raised to the public awareness this very, very small concern about the AstraZeneca vaccine?

MATT HANCOCK: Well, it's absolutely right that we are completely transparent and that we have this highly sensitive safety system that can spot even these extremely rare events. And it is important, though, that we-- we are clear about the policy. So I just want to set it out, because it's slightly different to what you said in the question there.

People-- these-- all three vaccines that are in use in the UK are safe, and they're safe at all ages. But there is a preference for the under 30s. And so we'll-- for under 30s, if they want to have the Pfizer or Moderna jab instead, then they can. But not only the British regulator, but even the European regulator and indeed, the World Health authority yesterday said that they Oxford AstraZeneca jab is safe. And we know that it's highly, highly effective.

And there's one other important point here, which is that, of course, the regulator has taken into account the-- the risk, the extremely rare risk to individuals. But the benefits don't only go to an individual for getting the jab, but to everybody. Because getting the job reduces your chance of getting COVID very substantially.

But it also reduces your chance of passing it on to your loved ones. And we should all think about that and take that into account. And I think that-- that-- the combination of those two things is one of the reasons why the uptake has been so high here in the UK. As I say, over 90% for all the-- all the-- the over 50s. And in fact, over 95% for people who are in their-- their 70s and 80s and above.

- Oh, OK, so I was just going to work, then for the under 30s as it currently stands when they start to enter the program, which for the vast majority of them is-- is a little while off yet? You're saying-- so it's not being absolutely paused. But you're just offering an alternative. I mean, logistically how does that work?

MATT HANCOCK: Well, there are 10.16 million people aged 18 to 29 in the UK. 1.6 million of them have already had their first jab. Anybody who's had the jab should continue with the second jab, because there's no evidence of this effect after a second jab.

And we have enough-- more than enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to cover all of the remaining 8 and 1/2 million people aged between 18 and 29 if necessary. Now, as you say, it's some time before we'll get onto-- to that cohort-- cohort 12 as it's called. The next step, once we've made sure we've got that offer out to everybody in the current groups-- groups one to nine, the over 50s-- then we'll move on to the people in their 40s, people like me, and then people in their 30s.

And after that, we'll come to people aged 18 to 29. And we'll make sure that they have the option of having the Pfizer or the Moderna job if they want to. And we have large numbers of jabs coming on stream. We have 40 million Pfizer jabs in-- in production. We have 17 million Moderna jabs that are coming through.

So as you can see, you know thankfully, because we've been working on this for-- for over a year now, we've got more than enough jabs. And we are on track to hit the target that we've set that we will insure every adult in the UK is offered the jab by the end of July.

- In terms of having enough jabs-- I mean, that obviously gives us a great deal of confidence here-- but what are we doing about sending some of these vaccines elsewhere? There are reports in the "Sydney Morning Herald" today that we've already sent about 300,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia. But it's been sort of kept under wraps a little bit. Have we done that?

MATT HANCOCK: Well, we've made sure that we can get the jabs that we need here. And that's why we have the fastest rollout. And obviously, we work with the companies, the three companies, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna-- the three companies that we're now using their jobs here in the UK.

And-- and then we've got more coming on track. And we talk to these companies all the time about the best route to making sure that we can get these-- these vaccines. And obviously, we're engaged with our European partners as well.

- Yeah but, to the best of your knowledge, have we sent 300,000 to Australia?

MATT HANCOCK: Well, we've produced the vast majority of the jabs that we're using, the AstraZeneca jabs here in the UK. In terms of what the companies, do that's-- you know, these companies are manufacturing for all around the world. And we source from everywhere in the world.

So those are-- what matters-- what I'm in control of-- what matters for us is the UK government is making sure that we get the supplies that we have contracted from the companies. And it's something we've discussed many times with respect to--

- So--

MATT HANCOCK: --the challenges with our Europeans partners.

- So the British government hasn't sent any abroad?

MATT HANCOCK: No, the British government has a contract with well, with-- with-- with seven companies now-- but of course, including AstraZeneca-- for the delivery by AstraZeneca to the UK for us to deploy through the NHS. And that's the bit that I'm responsible for.

- Well, in terms of-- you're talking about seven companies-- where are we with the getting the Novavax vaccine on board and also the Johnson & Johnson, which I think is the single jab vaccine, which could prove to be very useful? Where are we in that process?

MATT HANCOCK: Well, we've got three other really promising vaccines. And then there's the CureVac, which is about having a vaccine that we can adapt quickly for new variants if there's a problem with new variants. You know, the three others that aren't yet approved by the regulator, but are proceeding really well are the Novavax vaccine, which is going to be made here on Teesside, the Valneva vaccine, which is going to be made-- is being made in-- in Livingston, in Scotland.

You saw the news, no doubt earlier this week that that has passed its phase II trials. So it moves onto the phase III trials. So that's proceeding. That's going well.

And then there's the-- the Janssen vaccine. That is the single shot vaccine. And we have that coming on the stream in the summer. So all three of those are yet to be approved formally by the regulator.

But they are-- in the case of two of them, they're being used elsewhere in the world. We are in-- we're in good shape on the supply of future vaccines. And obviously, we had the great news that we started the rollout of the Moderna vaccine yesterday in Carmarthen in Wales.

So it's-- you know, the vaccine program is proceeding well. The speed of the vaccine program is not affected by the decisions yesterday. You can see and be reassured by the fact that we're taking an abundance of caution, and we're making sure that we're rolling this out in the safest way possible.

And I hope that people can take from the approach that we're taking, obviously listening to the best science in the world-- that people can have confidence in getting the jab, because we know that it's safe, and we know that it's effective. And getting this pandemic under control here in this country, which is obviously what we all want to see, because that is the road back to normal.

- And look, just before we let you go, can I just ask you about the situation in Northern Ireland? I mean, whatever has sparked this-- and there is some concern that it may be linked to the whole Northern Ireland Protocol and frustration over the Brexit situation-- but-- but how concerned are you, how concerned is government about what is happening there? And what now can Westminster do to assist?

MATT HANCOCK: Well, of course, we're concerned. And the-- the route out of this is dialogue. And I'd encourage all sides to engage in that dialogue.

It is, of course-- policing in Northern Ireland is, of course, a devolved matter. And the-- the reasons for this violence are complex. I've spoken to the Northern Ireland Secretary. And he and the prime minister are obviously working very closely on this. From the UK government point of view, we would like to see all sides engaged in that dialogue and this be resolved as a devolved matter by the people of Northern Ireland.