Robert Peston

We need to cut vaccine red tape

We need to cut vaccine red tape
A vial of the Oxford vaccine (photo: Getty)
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As I mentioned on Monday, in a fortnight AstraZeneca will be putting 2 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine into vials every week.

At that point the limiting factor on how many people can be vaccinated will switch from manufacturing to distribution – and in particular how long it takes to ‘process’ each person who turns up to be vaccinated.

It allegedly takes three times longer in the UK than in Israel to do the on-site paperwork for each vaccinated person. Which, if true, means the UK would be processing a smaller number of people than it could be vaccinating every day.

And in the current raging epidemic that would not just be an academic underperformance, but would have a big and huge cost in lives.

This excess of bureaucracy in the UK feels real to me, in that when I took my 90-year-old mum to be vaccinated before Christmas, I was asked for her medical history, allergies and vulnerabilities in a 15-minute phone interview before we went, and that was repeated in a 15-minute interview with a nurse when we got to the hospital. Some of the questions were asked again when we were moved to the nurse who actually administered the vaccine.

Such caution and treble-checking is probably warranted in normal times and as someone with huge experience of the NHS, this felt like less repetitive bureaucracy than I have often experienced.

But these are not normal times.

The risks posed to public health associated with not rolling out the vaccine fast enough are probably significantly greater than the risks of streamlining the administration associated with giving the vaccine, so that most of the paperwork – checking medical history, allergies and frailties, obtaining consent, verifying identity – could be done off-site, by telephone, online or via another bloomin' app, with only minimal duplication in the vaccination centre.

Here is the calculus: the faster that vulnerable people are vaccinated, the fewer will need hospitalisation and the less pressure there'll be on the NHS.

Which means lockdown would end earlier.

Which is why in the current crisis there is no more heroic project than reducing the red tape associated with being vaccinated.

Written byRobert Peston

Robert Peston is Political Editor of ITV News and host of the weekly political discussion show Peston. This article originally appeared on his ITV News blog.