Wales’ Vaccination Progress Against Covid-19

With great effort and singular vision, one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to the people of Wales. Everyone who is clinically vulnerable or over the age of 70 have received their invite to have a vaccination, and more and more people will soon receive their second vaccine dose. Rates of uptake are high, and while it’s too early to say here, in smaller nations, such as Israel, swift and high vaccination uptake appears  to contribute to reduced Covid-19 transmission, hospital admissions and death.

For a nation of three million people, it’s a monumental achievement over a short period of time, and a significant step on the way to fully rolling out the Covid-19 mass vaccination programme as quickly as possible.

Here at Cancer Research Wales we are huge fans of vaccines – researched, developed and deployed safely they are incredible public health interventions, in terms of numbers of human lives saved, quality of life gained and economic value.

Over the last three months, ever since the mass vaccination programme purred into life, we’ve supported the #ValuingVaccines campaign run by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (the ABPI).

We’re going to use this post to provide a short retrospective of the past twelve weeks, looking back to the start of the vaccination programme in December last year and onwards to January, when despite a promising start, there were growing concerns around the size and scale of the programme.

In December, we published our first (of three) vaccination blogs, “First Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out Begins in Wales”, and it was published at a moment when only one vaccine, the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was licenced by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Then, nobody knew how the public would react to the new vaccine, or any of the new vaccines developed, trialled and licenced in record-breaking time. Incidence of Covid-19 was again on the rise, and we could only hope that people shared our belief that mass vaccination was a more stable and reliable means of managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Our second vaccine-themed blog “A New Year Boost to Covid-19 Vaccination in Wales” was published in early-January. Wales was three-weeks into its second lockdown after the Welsh Government announced the emergence of a new, more transmissible variant of Covid-19, the Kent variant.

Two more vaccines had by then secured MHRA approval, the Oxford-AstraZeneca version and Moderna version. A far larger pool of doses became available to administer. Fears of low or hesitant uptake by priority groups were receding too.

Concerns shifted in the other direction that the mass vaccination programme in Wales would not be able to meet demand, unable to scale-up quickly enough in comparison to the other UK nations. We now know that proved not to be the case.

This resurgence of interest in vaccination has also given us a great opportunity to highlight the importance of vaccination in preventing some cancers.

Vaccination against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can prevent several different types of cancer, most famously cervical cancer. Modelling from the University of Warwick suggests that by 2058, the HPV vaccine programme including both boys and girls across the UK may have prevented over 100,000 HPV related cancers.  

At Cancer Research Wales we want the Wales HPV vaccination programme – which was extended to include secondary school-aged boys immediately prior to the pandemic – to resume. We also want to see support in place to ensure no-one misses their HPV jab due to Covid.

The individual protection afforded by vaccination is without a doubt important, but we also need to ensure that this cohort of young people are not left at greater risk of HPV-associated cancers than those in earlier or later years.

We need current and future generations to value the jabs they receive, they’re public and social goods, not missed opportunities.

You can find more information about the vaccines and what to expect as they continue to be rolled out across Wales at the Public Health Wales website.