It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was sat in an office in Cardiff with Health Sec Matt Hancock and the Welsh Gov’s equivalent Vaughan Gething. In fact, it was early last year and we were bracing ourselves for the Covid onslaught that we knew was heading our way. Vaughan’s departing words are as true now as they were then - “we will only get through this as four nations, together”.
It seems a bit odd then, that last week FM Drakeford cast doubt on Hancock’s claim that the success of the vaccination programme in Wales is due, in part, to the might of our Union. Nobody sensible disputes the colossal achievement of Kate Bingham and her team at the Vaccine Task Force - recognised in the Queens Birthday Honours this very weekend.
The decisions needed to achieve this success were not taken recently, but in the thick of the pandemic when the extent of the disaster was as impossible to predict, as was `the efficacy of the (then non-existent) vaccine rescue package.
Yet the UK Government, free from the shackles of the European Medicines Agency, was able to identify researchers and invest in them; it was able to source manufacturers and agree contracts; it committed the funding and fixed the distribution.
The vaccine roll out combined the very best expertise of the NHS and armed forces across the whole UK.
Did Welsh Government play a key part in that? Of course. But the implication that any devolved part of the UK could have achieved similar results alone is nonsense.
Then there is the additional question of why rates of roll out might vary across the UK – is this a question of efficiency, policy or something else? As we know, all four nations of the UK have signed up to the JCVI priority protocol, whereby vulnerable groups get done first - both practical and fair.
Statisticians will tell us that comparing communities in Rotherham to those in Rhondda is dangerously simplistic.
For example, in Wales we have an older average age profile, lending itself to a potentially higher vaccine uptake (and which also partially explains why our death rates in Wales were once the second highest in Europe, and are still the highest in the UK). The UKG's distribution of vaccines needed to reflect this, and its why the UKG has already ensured that Wales has enough vaccine to cover the entire adult population.
Proportionally we have fewer black and minority ethnic citizens in Wales, communities which we know have tended to be more sceptical of the vaccine than elsewhere in the population. We also need to look at our population densities, travel habits and student populations.
In short there is little on which to make credible comparisons.
As a unionist it is hardly a surprise that I will be championing UK successes. But this is about more than that, it's about responsible politics too. To emphasise the global buying power and international clout of the UK Government is not to demean Welsh Government.
Rather, it is to demonstrate how our four very different, identifiable and patriotic component parts are such a potent force when united.