Covid inquiry postpones vaccine investigation

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Witness hearings will be postponed until a later date, likely to be after the next general election.

Baroness Hallett, who is chairing the inquiry, recognised the decision would be “disappointing for some”.

But she said more time was needed to prepare for a separate investigation into the impact of Covid on the NHS.

“I want to ensure our hearings in 2024 are as effective as possible and I recognise the increasing pressure on organisations to respond to requests and provide information to the inquiry,” she added.

“I remain committed to not allowing the inquiry hearings to run beyond my original aim of summer 2026.”

Different phases

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The Covid-19 public inquiry has been split into a number of sections – known as modules – each covering different topics.

The first phase, which started taking evidence in June 2023, looked at planning for a pandemic. Its findings and recommendations are expected to be published this summer.

A second phase, looking at the major political decisions taken after Covid emerged, started hearings in London in October 2023, and will now travel to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to take evidence.

The module investigating vaccines and therapeutics was originally expected to start in the summer of 2024, but that has now been postponed.

Instead, public hearings will restart in September 2024 looking at the impact of the pandemic on the NHS and healthcare, as originally planned.

The investigation into vaccines was meant to look in detail at the rollout of jabs across the UK, including the setting up of the UK vaccines taskforce and the role of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It will also cover concerns around vaccine safety, including any suggested link between the jabs and heart issues, and whether reforms are needed to the scheme which is meant to pay out if an individual’s health is damaged after taking the jabs.

No timing has been given for the postponed hearings, with further details promised “in the next few weeks”.

It is thought the decision is likely to push that part of the inquiry until after the next general election, which has to take place before 28 January 2025.

Cabinet secretary to face questions

The inquiry is also still expected to question the current cabinet secretary, Simon Case, in a special hearing later this spring.

Mr Case, who has recently returned as head of the civil service after two months of sick leave, was not able to give evidence last autumn when the second phase of the inquiry looked at the political decisions made during the pandemic.

In WhatsApp exchanges with other Downing Street officials, and later read out at the inquiry, he was often critical of ministers.

In one message he accused officials, including former health secretary Matt Hancock and then-education secretary Gavin Williamson, of being “weak”.

In another, he described being “at the end of my tether” over decisions being made by Boris Johnson and said the former prime minister was “unable to lead”.