UK

Queen intervenes in vaccine rollout to encourage Britons to get jabbed

The Queen has made a historic intervention in the coronavirus vaccination drive, suggesting it is selfish not to have the jab.

In a video call with NHS officials in charge of the rollout, she encouraged those with doubts to ‘think about other people rather than themselves’.

The 94-year-old monarch said her jab last month ‘didn’t hurt at all’ and had made her ‘feel protected’. Likening Covid to a plague, she said it was remarkable how quickly the inoculation programme had been put into action, helping ‘so many people’.

A senior royal source said: ‘It is a passionately held belief that people need to get out there [and get vaccinated] – this is important.’

It is highly unusual for the sovereign to take such a firm public stand on contentious issues and her remarks will be seen as a victory for efforts to increase take-up. An NHS vaccine chief said it was an ‘incredibly important vote of confidence’ in the programme. 

The Queen has made a historic intervention in the coronavirus vaccination drive, suggesting it is selfish not to have the jab

The 94-year-old monarch (pictured leaving King Edward VII Hospital in 2013) said her jab last month 'didn't hurt at all' and had made her 'feel protected'

The 94-year-old monarch (pictured leaving King Edward VII Hospital in 2013) said her jab last month ‘didn’t hurt at all’ and had made her ‘feel protected’

In a video call with NHS officials in charge of the rollout, Her Majesty encouraged those with doubts to 'think about other people rather than themselves'

In a video call with NHS officials in charge of the rollout, Her Majesty encouraged those with doubts to ‘think about other people rather than themselves’

More than 18million Britons – one in three adults – have had at least one jab. Another 448,962 were given first doses on Wednesday.

But officials are concerned that ‘vaccine hesitancy’ could still undermine the rollout and even slow down the easing of lockdown restrictions.

They estimate that around 15 per cent of the population will not take up the offer of a jab, with scepticism highest among the young and minority ethnic groups.

The NHS has been working with community leaders and church groups to try to alleviate some of these fears with seminars and Q&A sessions.

The Queen was speaking during a WebEx video call with the four ‘senior responsible officers’ leading the deployment of Covid-19 vaccination across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Emily Lawson, who is leading the vaccine deployment programme for the NHS in England, told the monarch: ‘We hope everyone who is offered the vaccine will take it up, because it is our best chance to protect both the people who take up the vaccine, their families and their communities.’

In reply, the Queen suggested it was selfish for people not to have the jab if offered one, saying: ‘Once you’ve had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you’re protected, which is I think very important. 

And I think the other thing is that it is obviously difficult for people if they’ve never had a vaccine … but they ought to think about other people rather than themselves.’

After the call Dr Lawson said the Queen’s comments were an ‘incredibly important vote of confidence in the programme’.

She added: ‘We just want to make sure we create the conditions where everybody feels able to take up the offer of a vaccination when they’re called. And Her Majesty offering her view on that is a huge boost to our confidence and, I hope, to confidence more broadly in the programme.’

The Queen was speaking during a WebEx video call with the four 'senior responsible officers' leading the deployment of Covid-19 vaccination across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

The Queen was speaking during a WebEx video call with the four ‘senior responsible officers’ leading the deployment of Covid-19 vaccination across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Queen’s wise words during call with NHS chiefs 

‘THINK ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’

‘Once you’ve had the vaccine you have a feeling you’re protected, which is I think very important. It’s obviously difficult for people if they’ve never had a vaccine… but they ought to think about other people rather than themselves.

‘IT’S LIKE THE WAR’

It’s a bit like a plague, isn’t it? Because it’s not only here that we’ve got the virus, but it’s everywhere, so it’s a strange battle that everybody’s actually fighting.

Having lived in the war, it’s very much like that – when everybody had the same idea.

THE ‘HARMLESS’ JAB

As far as I can make out it was quite harmless. It was very quick, and I’ve had lots of letters from people who’ve been surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine… It didn’t hurt at all.

The Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge and Duchess of Cornwall have been thanking volunteers and key workers for their efforts in the vaccine rollout. Earlier this week Prince William made a point of saying on the jab: ‘I’d be at the front of the queue if I could, just to prove that it’s OK, but I have to wait my turn.’

The duchess told volunteers at another vaccination centre: ‘It feels like the first step of freedom, I certainly felt like that [after getting the vaccine]. I hope you’re able to be reunited with your grandchildren, I think we’re all looking forward to that!’

The Countess of Wessex is volunteering as a St John Ambulance volunteer at a vaccination centre. More than 10,000 volunteers have been trained for deployment at 2,500 sites around the UK.

The Queen had been reluctant to publicly confirm she was going to be vaccinated, with officials arguing that it was ‘private medical information’. But she had a change of heart and it was revealed that she and the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh had been given their jabs early last month.

The monarch has made only a handful of carefully-worded interventions in government matters during the course of her 69 years as head of state, most notably when she urged people to ‘think very carefully’ ahead of the 2014 Scottish independence vote.

It was later claimed that her comment to a member of public outside church at Balmoral was part of an ‘orchestrated’ plan to persuade people to vote ‘no’.

In 2019 she also urged people to seek common ground and never lose sight of the ‘bigger picture’ in what was widely seen as a reference to the often vitriolic debate over Brexit in a speech to her local Sandringham Women’s Institute.

A royal source likened this week’s intervention to the speech given by the Queen at the start of the pandemic in which she urged people to stay at home and talked about the need to work together to defeat the virus.

‘In this engagement and the engagements the family have been doing, it is another example of how we are all in it together,’ the insider added. ‘The vaccination programme is clearly the most important thing going on. They wanted to thank the people taking part in it.’

Insiders said the palace was ‘always wary of politics around these things’ but stressed the vaccination programme was ‘about the nation coming together’.

More than 18million Britons – one in three adults – have had at least one jab. Another 448,962 were given first doses on Wednesday. Pictured: A man receives a vaccine at the Arnison Vaccination Centre near Durham

More than 18million Britons – one in three adults – have had at least one jab. Another 448,962 were given first doses on Wednesday. Pictured: A man receives a vaccine at the Arnison Vaccination Centre near Durham

In the video call, Dr Lawson said: ‘To have vaccinated nearly 18million people in the UK is a testament to the strength, the will and the importance the Government, the NHS, all of our partners and our citizens have placed on this vaccination programme.

‘It really embodies the spirit of the NHS and it’s an amazing example of what the service can do when we all pull in the same direction and we work together with partners to deliver.’

Addressing the Queen, she added: ‘I’m wondering what your experience of receiving the vaccine was and whether that was a positive experience from you, and what other feedback you’ve heard?’

The Queen, speaking from Windsor in pearls and salmon-pink dress, replied: ‘Well, as far as I can make out it was quite harmless. It was very quick, and I’ve had lots of letters from people who’ve been very surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine. And the jab was very … it didn’t hurt at all.’

From today, hundreds of thousands of people on the official shielding list will be asked to come forward for their first dose.

A further ten vaccination sites, including Reading’s Madejski stadium and a theatre in Basildon, Essex, will start administering jabs this week.

ROBERT HARDMAN: From the Scottish referendum to the struggles of the pandemic… when the Queen speaks out, it packs a real punch 

During the relentless gloom and uncertainty in the early weeks of this pandemic, the Queen was accused of misjudging the mood of the people.

The Times, no less, criticised her ‘silence’, while pointing out that the monarchs of Spain, Holland, Norway, Belgium and Sweden had all had something to say to their people on the subject.

It would, in fact, be more than a fortnight later before the Queen spoke to the nation. When she did, her words resonated around the world.

They included one of the most memorable lines of this entire crisis (with a nod to Dame Vera Lynn): ‘We will meet again.’

Few world leaders have come up with anything as succinct, as appropriate and as reassuring during this entire saga.

With the wisdom of one who has endured more crises than most, she had not spoken for the sake of speaking. She had waited for the right moment. And it was the scarcity value of this intervention which gave it such impact. (We didn’t hear another squeak from her critics after that).

And so it is with this week’s regal pronouncement on vaccine sceptics and refuseniks: ‘They ought to think about other people rather than themselves.’

Queen Elizabeth II and quotes from her broadcast to the UK and the Commonwealth in relation to the coronavirus epidemic, displayed on lights in London's Piccadilly Circus

Queen Elizabeth II and quotes from her broadcast to the UK and the Commonwealth in relation to the coronavirus epidemic, displayed on lights in London’s Piccadilly Circus

On paper, it might seem a statement of the obvious. Yet, it serves as a powerful broadside precisely because of who has said it and the fact that she says these things very rarely.

She will have given the matter great thought, just like that brooch she is wearing during the conversation (the same brooch she wore when she and Prince Philip announced their engagement; no prizes for spotting the subliminal message in that).

Plainly – and very commendably – the Queen has decided, once again, that the time has come to intervene. And when the longest-lived, longest-reigning monarch in our history decides to voice an opinion, we really do listen.

Nearly one year on from the outbreak of this pandemic, the general consensus is that the monarch in particular and the Royal Family in general have had a pretty ‘good war’, as people used to say.

Through it all, they have all been supporting and recognising the unsung footsoldiers of this pandemic – not just those on the frontline but those in the backrooms, too. Some of it has been via video, for obvious reasons, but there have been plenty of proper engagements involving masks, elbow-bumping and palm-pressed ‘Namaste’ salutations.

Along the way, the Royal Family have been happy to thank and encourage, nothing more. So these latest words from the Queen pack a very considerable punch. It was the same in the run-up to the Scottish referendum in 2014. She voiced a few words which, again, were wholly innocuous on one level: ‘I hope people will think very carefully about the future.’ Yet the timing, the context and above all the source of the remarks made this another historic intervention.

That moment, in turn, was an echo of her celebrated Silver Jubilee address to both Houses of Parliament in 1977, when the Scottish nationalist movement was on the rise. The Queen was less coded on that occasion. Referring directly to ‘proposals for devolution’, she noted: ‘I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom.’ Again, it might have been a simple statement of fact – but it also spoke volumes.

It was nothing to do with the creed of Unionism, but rather a heartfelt reaffirmation of the U in UK. We can see a touch of that, too, in this royal conference call.

Princess Elizabeth (right) and Princess Margaret after they broadcast on 'Children's Hour' from Windsor Castle in 1940

Princess Elizabeth (right) and Princess Margaret after they broadcast on ‘Children’s Hour’ from Windsor Castle in 1940

Time and again this pandemic has allowed separatist elements to exploit the divides between Westminster and the devolved assemblies; to stoke up regional resentments.

It’s now no longer a joke but an article of faith that whatever Boris Johnson does, Nicola Sturgeon has to do differently. Yet there remain a few distinct forces working in the opposite direction, binding the home nations of the UK together. They are the Armed Forces, the vaccine programme and the monarchy. And here we see a celebration of all three in one morale-boosting video.

Other stand-out royal remarks over the years? The Queen’s Christmas broadcasts, by convention, represent her own thoughts. These have occasionally strayed into controversy.

The Queen was criticised in 1983 (again by The Times) for a perceived swipe at Thatcherism in her Christmas message. ‘In spite of all the progress that has been made, the greatest problem in the world today remains the gap between rich and poor countries,’ she said, arguing that ‘comradeship’ and ‘tolerance’ were as important as technological progress. This was, after all, a message to the entire Commonwealth, not just a home audience.

One of her most eagerly-anticipated speeches was her broadcast on the eve of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales: ‘What I say to you now, as your Queen and as a grandmother, I say from my heart…’ In a few moments, much of the fury which had been coalescing around the symbols of monarchy during that febrile week simply melted away.

Equally historic was her very first broadcast, made more than 80 years ago at the height of the Blitz. ‘We know, every one of us, that in the end, all will be well,’ the 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth assured the children of the British Empire, assisted by her sister – ‘Come on, Margaret!’ As the duo signed off – ‘Goodnight, children, and good luck to you all’ – history had been made.

That teenage Princess was beginning what has now been the longest broadcasting career of all time. As this week reminds us, eight decades later, just a few words from her can still make all the difference.

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