UK PM names Nadhim Zahawi as minister responsible for vaccine deployment

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has named Nadhim Zahawi, currently a junior business minister, as the minister responsible for COVID-19 vaccine deployment. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2020

UK PM names Nadhim Zahawi as minister responsible for vaccine deployment

  • Johnson said Conservative lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi will oversee the country’s biggest vaccine program in decades
  • The UK medicines regulator is currently assessing two vaccines to see if they are safe and effective

LONDON: The British government appointed a vaccines minister on Saturday as it prepares to inoculate millions of people against the coronavirus, potentially starting within days.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Conservative lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi will oversee the country’s biggest vaccine program in decades.
The UK medicines regulator is currently assessing two vaccines — one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the other by Oxford University and AstraZeneca — to see if they are safe and effective. The Guardian newspaper reported that hospitals have been told they could receive the first doses of the Pfizer shot the week of Dec. 7, if it receives approval.
The UK says frontline health care workers and nursing home residents will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by older people, starting with those over age 80.
Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, enough for 20 million people, and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
In all, the UK government has agreed to purchase up to 355 million doses of vaccine from seven different producers, as it prepares to vaccinate as many of the country’s 67 million people as possible.
Decisions about which, if any, vaccines to authorize will be made by the independent Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Pfizer and BioNTech say their vaccine is 95% effective, according to preliminary data. It must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures of around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit).
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored at conventional refrigerator temperatures, and is also cheaper than its main rivals. But some scientists have questioned gaps in its reported results.
Oxford and AstraZeneca reported this week that their vaccine appeared to be 62% effective in people who received two doses, and 90% effective when volunteers were given a half dose followed by a full dose. They said the half dose was administered because of a manufacturing error, and they plan a new clinical trial to investigate the most effective dosing regimen.
The British government hopes a combination of vaccines and mass testing will end the need for restrictions on business and everyday life it imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Britain has had Europe’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 57,000 confirmed virus-related deaths.
The prime minister said this week that officials hope to inoculate “the vast majority of the people who need the most protection by Easter.” But he warned that “we must first navigate a hard winter” of restrictions.
A four-week national lockdown in England is due to end Wednesday, and will be replaced by three-tiered system of regional measures that restrict business activity, travel and socializing. The vast majority of the country is being put into the upper two tiers.
Johnson faces opposition to the measures from dozens of his own Conservative Party’s lawmakers, who say the economic damage outweighs the public health benefits.
Bur Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the restrictions were “grimly” necessary to avoid the health system being overwhelmed this winter.
Writing in The Times of London, Gove said there are currently 16,000 coronavirus patients in British hospitals, not far below the April peak of 20,000. A rise in infections would mean coronavirus patients would “displace all but emergency cases. And then even those.," he said.
“If, however, we can keep the level of infection stable or, even better, falling, and hold out through January and February, then we can be confident that vaccination will pull the plug on the problem,” Gove wrote.

Related


Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 56 min 47 sec ago

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.