Anthony spoke in the House on Wednesday 30 December in the debate on new coronavirus restrictions. The full text is below:
I join colleagues from across the House in welcoming the approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine. As I might have mentioned a couple of times, AstraZeneca has its global headquarters in my constituency. We often call it the Oxford vaccine, but I will call it the Oxford-Cambridge vaccine, for fairness.
I pay tribute to all the scientists, and to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the Health Ministers and their team, for making sure that the UK has led the way in the fight against coronavirus. We are a world leader, not only in vaccination—we had the first approval, and now have the Oxford-Cambridge vaccine, which will be rolled out across the world—but in testing: we do more of it than any other European country. We are also world-leading in genomics. A colleague mentioned genomic surveillance. That is done largely in my constituency by the Wellcome Sanger Institute; we do more than the rest of the world put together. We are also world-leading in developing a clinically proven drug against coronavirus. The pandemic has shown that the UK is a life sciences superpower, and that is something of which we should be proud.
The new vaccine has been hailed as a game changer. When the announcement was made this morning, I could almost hear the sigh of relief across the country; finally, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a great end to an absolutely horrible year, but as we have discussed this evening, the number of infections is rising as I speak. It is far higher than it has been, and so is the number of hospitalisations. NHS managers tell us that their hospitals are at the tipping point; they are creaking under the strain and may not be able to cope. That is why the Government announced new tier regulations just before Christmas and today. I support those regulations with a heavy heart, because I know the damage that they do to businesses, mental health and people’s lives, but having gone through all the data, I cannot see any alternative. I am very keen, though, for us to get out of them as quickly as possible. That, hopefully, is what the vaccine will allow us to do.
We now have a race between the infection rate, which is rising rapidly, and rolling out the vaccination as quickly as possible. The vaccination programme will change the dynamic of the pandemic, which means that we should change how we assess the restrictions and the tiers in future. At the moment, our focus is mainly on infection rates. That makes good sense, because infection leads to hospitalisation, and hospitalisation leads to death as night follows day; there is a clear link. As we vaccinate those most at risk—the elderly and the vulnerable—the death rate will come down rapidly. We could end up with infection rates staying quite high, particularly among unvaccinated young people, but death rates plummeting. There will be a breakdown in the relationship between the death rate and the infection rate, and that relationship has guided policy so far. The Government’s focus, in their policy on restrictions, should be not on infections, but on the death rate.
Let me give an example. Some 95% of deaths from coronavirus have been of people over the age of 60. Only 5% of deaths have been of people under that age. If we vaccinate all people over 60, which we can do by mid-February, it will lead to a 90% fall in the death rate, which is really quite astonishing. That is why, in recent months, I have been urging the Government to publish the case fatality rate—the proportion of people with coronavirus who end up dying. That rate has been plummeting. Our World in Data, an independent and highly respected website, does charts on countries around the world, and it says that the case fatality rate for coronavirus in the UK has dropped 75% since September. As the vaccine is rolled out, that rate will fall further and further.
One thing that we can all agree on in this House is that we do not want these restrictions longer than is absolutely necessary. I see at first hand in my constituency their impact on pubs, businesses, the events industry, wedding planners, and people’s social lives. We have to get out of the restrictions as quickly as possible. That is why I urge the Government, in the new year, to think not so much about the rate of infection as about the number of deaths. If deaths are going down, we can lift the restrictions.
I am 53 and in cohort 9—[Interruption.] Honestly! I know I do not look it. I have my own hair. In short, my point is: do not wait for people my age to get vaccinated before allowing the pubs of South Cambridgeshire to reopen. There is light at the end of the tunnel; let us make sure that we get there as quickly as possible.