Monday, 18 January 2021

If I give you the vaccine, I won't have any left for someone else...


Some years ago, I worked in an office where the stationery was zealously guarded by the department’s administrator. Basically, the staff weren’t trusted to take only what they needed to do their job, and had to ask every time they needed a new pencil or biro, presenting the shortened or ink-depleted old one as evidence. On one occasion, I needed a floppy disk (yes, it really was that long ago!), and took myself off to the administrator’s desk, strategically placed in front of the locked stationery cupboard. “I’ve only got one left,” she told me. “That’s alright,” I replied, “I only need one.” “But if I give you this one, I won’t have any left if someone else wants one,” came the response, and no amount of pleading, let alone logic, would get the cupboard unlocked and the disk released into my custody.

What brought the incident to mind was yesterday’s astonishing statement from the First Minister that, because the supply of Covid-19 vaccines which has been issued to Wales has to last until the beginning of February, the government is eking it out to use it at a consistent rate over that period rather than using it all up as soon as it is available in order to vaccinate people more quickly. His argument for this is that, if we use it all at once, members of the vaccination team will then be sitting around idle until more supplies arrive. It’s not much of an argument; if the capacity to use it all in a shorter period exists, then the implication is that that capacity will be underused over the whole of the period rather than completely unused for part of it. To use the timescales quoted by the First Minister: in broad terms, the amount of resource needed to deliver the vaccines is roughly the same whether they’re done in a week or in six weeks – either way, a substantial portion of the capacity goes unused. It’s just that non-activity for five weeks is more obvious than under-activity for six.

Either way, it implies that the Welsh Government has put more capacity in place than it currently needs to deliver the vaccines available to it. Given the urgency of the programme, and the uncertainty of supplies, that’s not something for which it would be fair to criticise Drakeford. Much better to have excess capacity sitting around waiting for the supplies than to be under capacity when the supplies arrive, particularly if it is hoped and anticipated that in the fairly near future the rate of supply will increase dramatically. On the whole, Drakeford has come out of the pandemic looking more competent and compassionate than his English counterparts, even if the results haven’t always been as significantly different as we might hope; but his performance has not been perfect. Unless he has a better or more complete excuse than he’s offered in this case, he looks to have called this one wrong.

It would also be interesting to know whether the other parts of the UK have been following a similar approach. Just because the question seems only to have been asked (and therefore answered) in Wales, it doesn’t mean that a similar question elsewhere wouldn’t prompt a similar response (although in England, asking a question wouldn't necessarily lead to a response at all).


CapM said...

Looks to me that he's dropped the ball on this one and I can't imagine scientific or medical advice would give him a reason to do what he's done. Unless he's made a genuine cockup there surely must be some other reason behind it.
It doesn't appear to be politically astute whereas a Labour government organising hundreds of GIG staff to be ready and waiting for a Tory government to deliver vaccines is. Maybe he want's to avoid embarrassing a fellow unionist government!

John Dixon said...


I agree with the point you make. In a sense, that's why I wondered whether the same thing is happening elsewhere, but only Drakeford is owning up to it. It would still be a poor excuse, but at least he wouldn't look like the only dunce in the room.

dafis said...

D'ford is looking increasingly like the type of guy who's good at banning, restricting or inhibiting stuff but when it comes to driving an organised delivery of an urgent service he fails to ensure joined up thinking among those key organisations that respond to his directions.