The Sunday Telegraph

Hancock kept PM in dark over jabs success

Health Secretary sat on positive data for three days prior to meeting that ruled unlocking must be delayed


MATT HANCOCK failed to tell the Prime Minister about a major Public Health England (PHE) study showing the effectiven­ess of vaccines against the Indian variant during a key meeting called to decide whether to extend Covid restrictio­ns tomorrow, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

The Sunday Telegraph understand­s that the Health Secretary had known about the PHE data three days before the “quad” of four senior ministers, led by Mr Johnson, met last Sunday to decide whether to postpone the planned June 21 reopening until July 19.

However, multiple sources familiar with the meeting said it was not raised by Mr Hancock, or discussed at all during the course of the talks.

The data were also not included in briefing papers given to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, in advance of the meeting.

The disclosure raises the possibilit­y that the quad could have opted to press ahead with lifting the restrictio­ns tomorrow if they had been aware of the study, which showed that both the AstraZenec­a and Pfizer vaccines were more effective at preventing hospitalis­ation against the Indian/delta variant than they were against previous strains.

It comes after it emerged last week that Mr Johnson had branded his Health Secretary “hopeless” over his handling of the pandemic last year.

Last night, senior Tories asked whether Mr Hancock had “bounced” the Prime Minister into extending the current measures.

The disclosure will fuel calls for the measures to be lifted on July 5 – the halfway point before July 19, at which Mr Johnson said the Government could decide to lift restrictio­ns early. One Cabinet minister insisted that there must now be a “political decision” to allow businesses to operate fully again owing to concerns about severe harm being done to the economy with relatively “little benefit”.

Last night, Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Coronaviru­s Research

Group of Conservati­ve MPs, said: “Either Matt Hancock thought this data was insignific­ant or he thought it should be withheld from the Prime Minister and other key ministers.

“Either way, the mind boggles at what conversati­on must now be necessary with the Prime Minister, and I feel confident it will be a matter of interest to my colleagues on the relevant select committees.

“If Matt Hancock was deliberate­ly withholdin­g relevant informatio­n, what was he trying to gain? Was the Prime Minister bounced?” A Department of Health spokesman denied Mr Hancock had “bounced” the Prime Minister.

Senior ministers were said to be furious with how the decision-making process was handled. Sources close to members of the quad also said they were not provided with the usual explanatio­ns that accompany modelling by Sage scientists at the meeting, which showed that a June 21 reopening would lead to a large resurgence in hospital admissions.

A source close to the quad said: “They were presented with the [Sage] data without the assumption­s that it was based on.” Members of the quad were said to be “very annoyed”. The claim was denied by other government sources.

The Sunday Telegraph understand­s that Mr Hancock was briefed on the overall findings of the data on Thursday June 10, before PHE went on to send its written analysis to the Health Secretary on Saturday June 12.

On the Saturday, Mr Johnson hosted a brief virtual meeting of the quad from the G7 summit in Cornwall, ahead of the longer meeting following his return to Downing Street the next day. However, the first notificati­on that No 10 received of the results was in an email to aides at around 3pm on Sunday June 13 – shortly before the meeting that evening at which ministers decided to extend the restrictio­ns.

Sources familiar with the talks said an email sent so close to the meeting did not amount to a meaningful attempt to inform Mr Johnson of the data.

Mr Baker added: “To send an email so late in the day is an act of opposition. It’s the sort of thing we do to Labour MPs before appearing in their constituen­cies to campaign. It’s not what a Health Secretary should do to a Prime Minister.”

A government source insisted that “equivalent data” to the PHE study were shown to the quad. The “equivalent”

data were said to have been drawn up by Sage’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling and to have included similar figures to the PHE’s findings on the efficacy of the vaccines.

The source said: “When the decision was made to delay, ministers knew that the vaccines work.

“That is why we are buying more time to get more jabs in arms.”

But the PHE data, which were made public only on Monday evening after Mr Johnson announced the delay, was based on an analysis of 14,019 cases of the delta variant as recently as June 4, looking at emergency hospital admissions in England.

It was described by PHE as “hugely important findings” which “confirm that the vaccines offer significan­t protection against hospitalis­ation from the delta variant”.

Real-world data showed that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 94 per cent effective against hospital admission from the variant after one dose, rising to 96 per cent after two jabs.

The Oxford/AstraZenec­a vaccine was found to be 71 per cent effective against hospital admission after one dose, rising to 92 per cent after two jabs.

A Government source said: “The reason we need more time is because of the increased transmissi­bility of the Delta variant, not because of vaccine escape.”

A Department of Health spokesman said any suggestion that Mr Hancock “bounced” the Prime Minister was “categorica­lly untrue”.

He added: “Informatio­n which was provided by PHE was shared across government before the meeting.

“Analysis and work on the scientific paper continued over the weekend before it was published as soon as it was ready on Monday.”

 ??  ?? Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, watching the Euro 2020 scoreless draw between England and Scotland at Wembley on Friday night
Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, watching the Euro 2020 scoreless draw between England and Scotland at Wembley on Friday night

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