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Nick Hart, Wolverhampton Socialist Party

It turns out that having a National Health Service comes in useful during a major pandemic.

So far, the coordination of vaccine rollout by the four national NHS bodies in the UK, and its administration by GP surgeries and hospitals, has allowed five million people to receive their first dose. This is a marked improvement to the fiasco caused by outsourcing test-and-trace and the supply of PPE to a hodgepodge of private companies.

However, the vaccine coverage between different localities remains highly uneven. As some parts of the country have already vaccinated a majority of over-80s, doses are being diverted elsewhere at short notice to allow those regions to catch up.

The Tories set a target of opening 2,700 vaccination centres. At the moment the total nationally is just under half that.

This shows the problems created by the merging of sites by NHS trusts and GP practices, and the outright closure of many local facilities by councils over the last decade due to strains on funds. The Financial Times estimates that 330,000 people without access to a car live more than an hour by public transport from their nearest vaccination centre. Half are in the vulnerable category of over-65.

The infrequent, pricey, and often non-existent bus services experienced by those in rural areas are no accident. They are a direct result of the real-term cuts of over 40% to subsidies for buses since 2010, as calculated by the Campaign for Better Transport. Even those living in better-connected urban areas could be facing a race against time to receive their vaccination.

Many in their 60s living in the most deprived areas are equally at risk of becoming severely ill or dying from coronavirus as those in their 80s in wealthier areas. If you’re on a lower income, you’re more likely to suffer from a pre-existing health condition – whether from breathing in dust or chemicals at work, living in damp and draughty housing or suffering obesity due to a lack of time, money and energy to exercise and eat healthily.

All of these factors make it harder to survive coronavirus after contracting it. Health is a class issue, whether you’re living in an inner city or a remote village.

Most ordinary people are hoping the current vaccination programme will be successful in countering Covid-19. But keeping the population healthy now and in the long run means fighting not just for a properly funded and publicly run NHS, but for an improvement of working and living conditions across the board.