I COULD not be more proud of members of our regional NHS in their actions in getting us to the front of the race when it comes to vaccine roll-out.

The efforts of our country’s national team in sourcing and ordering vaccines has been incredible and the outstanding local efforts have led to our most at-risk residents being among the first in world to vaccinated.

This, of course, was all possible because our Government made the call to not join the pan-European initiative for vaccine supply. At the time, this decision was ridiculed by many in the Labour Party from Sir Keir Starmer down. It is noticeable that Captain Hindsight and team are quiet on this now.

If we had joined the EU on this we would not be concerned about which region was leading, rather we would be fighting for scraps of what was available. Add this to the outstanding work led by the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, in facilitating delivery, and we should be very proud of our teams.

It is common sense that there are pressures on the supply of vaccines. They are, after all, wanted by everyone everywhere. It is natural therefore to understand that priorities should be determined medically rather than politically.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has determined a categorisation of the population by risk of death and prioritised vaccinations accordingly. This has to apply across the UK. Can you imagine the outcry if it had happened to be a southern part of the NHS that had been ready first! I am sure then that we in the North-East would have expected to be able to catch up.

The decision to work through the categories in order is particularly important for those most at risk and I wholeheartedly support it for the highest risk categories. As we get further down the risk categories, I can then start to accept some shuffling of the health priorities for what are lower risk people so that we can focus on people like teachers, police, shop workers etc who engage with more people as part of their work.

Rather than celebrating the outstanding progress made both nationally and locally, some of our Labour MPs seem more interested in leading a charge claiming the North-East is being disadvantaged now.

To claim that vaccines are being diverted away from us is misleading nonsense that does nothing more than introduce worry to our residents still to be vaccinated. Vaccines are being delivered to us in line with our need to get the top four categories done and our residents should be confident of this and not have unnecessary concerns at what is already a stressful time.

A fairer interpretation of the situation is that we received more of our share first.

We operate with a national health service and its responsibility is to ensure that all in the top four categories are vaccinated throughout all of the country as quickly as possible. We continue to get our share based on our need to complete this tranche on time. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

To say that the North-East is being punished is a political stunt playing to a message of division that is wholly inappropriate.

I am very confident that this Government will look after our region and enact levelling up as we build back better following Covid. We need all our political leaders to be encouraging delivery and investment and not trying to pull apart everything to score political points.

l Paul Howell is the Conservative MP for Sedgefield