• Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed as a new health minister to oversee rollout of the Covid vaccine in England.

  • The rollout is expected to begin before Christmas, subject to regulatory approval.

  • Mr Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, will oversee distribution of the vaccine until at least next summer.

Source: BBC News

Reprinted for educational purposes and social benefit, not for profit. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “delighted”, adding in a tweet there was “an enormous task ahead”.

Under the interim arrangement, Mr Zahawi will serve as a joint minister between the health department and the business department, where he currently works.

His primary focus will be on delivering the vaccine, with most areas of his business portfolio put aside.

It comes as a further 479 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK, bringing the total to 58,030. There were also a further 15,871 positive cases registered in the past 24 hours.

In a tweet, Mr Zahawi welcomed his new post but said the rollout would be a “big responsibility and a big operational challenge”.

He added that he was “absolutely committed to making sure we can roll out vaccines quickly – saving lives and livelihoods and helping us #buildbackbetter”.

Mr Zahawi will look after deployment of the vaccine in England only, but will work with the devolved administrations on their chosen approach. Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be responsible for the vaccine’s distribution in their relevant nations.

Currently, the UK government has placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, 40 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech and five million doses from US firm Moderna.

Rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may pose the greatest challenge as it needs to be stored at minus 70C, raising potential difficulties with transport and storage.

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Who is Nadhim Zahawi?

  • Nadhim Zahawi moved to the UK from Iraq with his family when he was nine years old
  • In 2000 he co-founded online market research agency YouGov and was its chief executive until he was selected as a Conservative parliamentary candidate in 2010
  • He was first elected as Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon in May 2010
  • In 2011 he co-authored a book with fellow MP Matt Hancock, now the health secretary, on the human behaviour behind the banking crash – called “Masters of Nothing”
  • In 2018 he became an education minister in Theresa May’s government.
  • Under Boris Johnson’s premiership he was appointed as a business minister
  • He is married and has three children
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Last week, the government asked the regulator to assess the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, marking “a significant first step” in getting the vaccine “approved for deployment”.

It follows a similar referral to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) earlier this month to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which has been shown to stop more than 90% of people developing Covid-19 symptoms in preliminary trials.

On Saturday, the Financial Times reported that regulatory approval for that vaccine could come as early as next week – and suggested rollout would start within hours of authorisation.

Interim data from the trials of the Oxford jab showed an overall efficacy of 70%. The findings from one group of volunteers showed 62% efficacy while another group, who were given a different dose by accident, showed 90% efficacy.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the UK would be one of the first countries in the world to receive the vaccine, if it is authorised, with AstraZeneca set to have as many as four million doses ready for the UK by the end of the year and 40 million by the end of March 2021.

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Analysis

By Ellie Price, political reporter, BBC News

In ministerial terms, it’s a sideways move.

But Nadhim Zahawi’s new job comes with huge public expectation, and therefore the potential for political disaster.

The government is only too aware of the bloody nose it has received as a result of the shortcomings of NHS Test and Trace programme and the procurement of PPE at the start of the pandemic.

Government scientists have said, if proven to be safe and effective, mass vaccinations will offer a “much better horizon” by the spring.

Hospitals and other NHS trusts in England say they have been told to get ready to administer jabs from the middle of December. The winter flu vaccine programme will offer some framework for how that will work in practice.

Mr Zahawi is seen as a good media performer. He has a business background and helped to set up the polling group YouGov. He’ll understand only too well the delicate art of keeping public opinion on side.

Mr Zahawi’s appointment follows calls from Labour for the government to appoint a vaccine minister, who would provide accountability and avoid repeating mistakes made over PPE procurement and NHS Test and Trace.

Shadow health secretary John Ashworth said: “Only days ago Labour called for a vaccines minister to oversee the huge logistical challenge of widespread vaccination.

“We now need a mass public health campaign urging uptake of the vaccine, alongside ensuring the resources are in place for GPs and other health professionals to rapidly roll this out as soon as possible.”

Tier three ‘disappointment’

In addition to the vaccine rollout, the prime minister has said mass community testing, as seen in Liverpool, will be offered to all areas in tier three after lockdown ends on 2 December.

Earlier this week, Mr Zahawi tweeted that he was “extremely disappointed and sad” that Warwickshire, the county in which his constituency lies, would be placed in the most restricted tier – tier three – after England’s national lockdown ends next week.

He said he would be pushing for the county of Warwickshire to be considered separately from Coventry and Solihull in all future decisions about restrictions and for the rollout of mass testing – but urged residents “to continue following the rules to the letter” in the meantime.