Fresh plea for Royal Navy sailors to receive Covid vaccine as HMS Queen Elizabeth returns to Portsmouth
FRESH calls have been made for thousands of Royal Navy personnel to be given their coronavirus vaccine ahead of a major deployment of Britain’s carrier strike group.
The plea came as HMS Queen Elizabeth – the navy’s flagship which will spearhead the task force in May – arrived back home in Portsmouth today after a three-week stint at sea.
About 3,000 naval personnel – many of whom are based in Portsmouth – are expected to take part in the overseas mission, which will see the £3.2bn flotilla visiting the Mediterranean, Gulf and Indo-Pacific.
The task group, touted by the navy as ‘Europe’s most powerful’, will involve two Type 45 destroyers, two Type 23 frigates, support vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and an American guided-missile destroyer.
But today a retired Warrant Officer, whose son is serving as part of the carrier strike group, said Britain was ‘missing a trick’ and could be putting lives at risk by not giving crews their jabs.
The military veteran, who lives in Horndean, has written to Meon Valley MP Flick Drummond to urge Whitehall to provide 6,000 doses of the vaccine – enough for sailors to receive both jabs during their deployment.
Speaking to The News, the 67-year-old veteran – who asked not to be named – said: ‘This is disgusting. We should be looking after the servicemen that are being asked to go abroad. It’s only 6,000 doses maximum - that’s nothing.
‘There is a real concern on the ship. There is a great potential for the virus to spread - it could easily spread on the ship.
‘People can’t go on holiday. Yet we’re sending people on foreign journeys who will no doubt mix with others.
‘Some of them will be visiting Italy and Greece without protection from Covid, which is on the rise in Europe.
‘It just seems we’re missing a trick by not vaccinating them to make sure that they don’t get it.’
More than half of all adults in the UK – some 27.6m – have so far received their first vaccine, with a record-breaking 844,285 people being jabbed on Saturday,
But there are concerns Britain’s vaccination programme could stall next month as European leaders seek to block vaccine exports to the UK.
As previously reported, First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin said in January he was ‘hopeful’ all carrier strike group personnel would be vaccinated before they deployed in May.
This month, armed forces minister James Heappey insisted plans were afoot to ensure military personnel were vaccinated.
He added: ‘Defence is committed to keeping our personnel, their families and communities safe at home and overseas, and all our personnel are being vaccinated in line with national priority guidelines.
‘This means that service personnel are being offered vaccination in step with the UK population.
‘Whilst not arguing that defence personnel should be vaccinated ahead of turn, we do believe that they should not be disadvantaged by being out of the country on operational duty when their turn comes.’
Meanwhile, Flick Drummond, Meon Valley MP, said: ‘The government has said service personnel will not miss their covid vaccinations while on operational deployments, but I do understand how this is a worry for those serving and their families.
‘I will be speaking to the minister further to understand how this will work in practice considering the deployment of the vessels over such a long period of time.
‘However, I have no concerns that the Royal Navy will be very careful to protect its sailors when visiting countries that have Covid-19.
‘I hope that HMS Elizabeth and her escorts had a good maiden operational voyage. I am very proud the UK’s Carrier Strike Group will be travelling to the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and east Asia over the coming months to fly the flag and work with allies across the globe.’
A government spokesman added ‘discussions with the Department for Health and Social Care colleagues’ was taking place.