Welsh Government has reacted angrily to claims from health minister Matt Hancock that Wales’ successful vaccination programme was only possible because England was keeping a stockpile.
Wales has vaccinated people more quickly than England despite the two nations receiving population-based shares of the UK government’s vaccine supplies.
Giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee about coronavirus, Mr Hancock said the Department of Health in England had decided to keep “enough of a buffer” for people to get their second vaccinations and held some vaccinations back in case there was an interruption to supply.
He was asked by Labour’s Graham Stringer MP for Blackley and Broughton, why Wales’ vaccination programme had been so successful.
Mr Stringer asked if it was because Wales did not hold vaccines back, but as soon as they got them, used them rather than stockpiling for any potential supply issues.
Mr Hancock said he “very much liked my colleagues in Wales”. He said while they were in different parties, there was a “very clear answer to why this happened” but acknowledged it wouldn’t be popular in Wales. He said he would “phone his new Welsh opposite number afterwards”.
He said that all four nations had to hold a buffer to ensure that they were able to fulfil second doses within the 12-week period.
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Mr Hancock said: “It’s a judgement how big that buffer needs to be. Our colleagues in Wales decided to hold no such buffer and go ahead on the presumption that supply would come through but they also knew if there was an interruption to supply, that England’s buffer would be used to ensure no-one in Wales missed their second vaccination. That is not a decision I could make for England because I can’t draw on anyone else’s buffer.
“What this demonstrates is that the value of the UK-wide vaccination programme and the fact we’ve taken a whole UK approach benefits everybody includes in Wales, enormously benefits everybody living in Scotland because we were able to procure on behalf of the whole United Kingdom.
“I would argue that the vaccination programme demonstrates that the union saves lives and in the case of Wales, the union has helped Wales to have one of the fastest vaccination programmes in the world and I wish them every luck in the delivery of it.”
The Welsh Government tweeted its response, disputing Mr Hancock’s answer.
“The success of our world-leading vaccine programme is a result of excellent planning and the sheer hard work of vaccine teams around Wales. It is wrong to suggest we’re reliant on an “English buffer” – we have our own – we are simply more efficient at using it,” the tweet read.