Boris Johnson has confirmed Britain will dish out Covid-19 vaccines 24 hours a day ‘as soon as we can’ amid mounting pressure to ramp up the immunisation scheme.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister said: ‘I can tell Sir Kier that we’ll be going to 24/7 as soon as we can. And (the Health Secretary) Matt Hancock will be setting out more about that in due course.
He added: ‘As he rightly says, at the moment the limit is on supply.’
Ministers were today preparing to rubber-stamp plans for trials of round-the-clock vaccinations, according to reports, after bowing to immense pressure to turbo-charge the roll out. A senior Government source said No10 was considering a ‘pilot where vaccinations are offered for longer hours’ to gauge whether there is enough demand to keep jab hubs open through the night.
But there are serious doubts over whether they can deliver the scheme amid mounting concerns over vaccine supply – with Mr Hancock hinting this morning this was behind the decision to delay jabs in parts of the country.
Practices that have already inoculated every patient over the age of 80 and are now looking to dish the jabs out to the over-70s have had their deliveries cancelled because minsters want to avoid a postcode lottery, according to The Telegraph.
The decision to adopt the scheme marks another U-turn for the Government, after Boris Johnson sparked fury when he claimed this week there was ‘no clamour’ for appointments after 8pm.
It comes after it emerged an Asda store in Birmingham is set to become the first supermarket in the country to dish out the jabs this month – after being recruited to the scheme.
The branch is transforming its clothing section to host the centre, which will be run out of its in-store pharmacy and be able to administer 250 jabs a day. The centre will open on January 25, but supermarket bosses are yet to say which of their stores in Birmingham was chosen for the roll out.
Meanwhile, easyJet cabin crew staff have also been drafted in to administer Covid-19 vaccines across the country, to bolster the nationwide effort.
No10 is also offering vaccine passports to thousands of Brits who have already received their coronavirus jab in a trial taking place this month after ministers flip-flopped over the controversial policy.
The companies behind the project said if the controversial scheme proves successful it could be rolled out to millions of people across the country. There are concerns about vaccine passports because they are viewed by some as a way of forcing people into getting the jabs.
Kelly Heney receives her coronavirus vaccination at the Depaul homeless shelter in Oldham, Greater Manchester, today
Lee Ullha receives an injection of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Depaul homeless centre in Oldham, Greater Manchester, today
Staff prepare to dish out jabs at a homeless centre in Oldham, Greater Manchester, today
An Asda store in Birmingham will become the first in Britain to host a Covid vaccination centre. The supermarket is yet to be named. Pictured: An Asda in Birmingham
Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed on Tuesday that 2.43million people have now had their first dose, up from 2.29m yesterday. Another 20,000 second doses were also added onto the cumulative total
How the Government’s vaccine plan breaks down
PHASE 1 (FEB 15 TARGET)
CARE HOME RESIDENTS – 300,000
CARE HOME WORKERS – 500,000
AGE 80+ – 3,300,000
HEALTHCARE WORKERS – 2,400,000
SOCIAL CARE WORKERS – 1,400,000
AGE 75-79 – 2,300,000
AGE 70-74 – 3,200,000
CLINICALLY EXTREMELY VULNERABLE (UNDER 70) – 1,200,000
PHASE 2 (SPRING)
AT-RISK UNDER 65 7,300,000
PHASE 3 (AUTUMN)
REST OF ADULT POPULATION 21,000,000
In other coronavirus news:
- Ministers warn Britons could face tougher restrictions by the weekend with offices forced to shut, joint exercise banned and nurseries shuttered if Covid-19 cases don’t keep falling;
- Covid marshal is filmed stopping a jogger for ‘breathing heavily’ on a run in west London;
- Jonathan Van-Tam shoots down calls for social distancing to be extended to three metres because mutant strain ‘does not travel further than regular Covid’;
- Hospitals plan to discharge Covid-19 patients to care homes without testing them, say reports;
- Results from Brazil study show China’s Covid vaccine is only 50 per cent effective – far lower than the 78 per cent originally touted;
- More than 600,000 people died in England and Wales in 2020… the highest annual total since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic;
The Leeds-based retailer was selected by NHS England to operate the site, with qualified staff administering the vaccine to priority groups.
Asda bosses said it is the first Asda pharmacy to be approved to support the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine programme, and the chain is continuing to work with Public Health England and NHS England to assess other sites within its estate.
The in-store vaccination centre will be open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, and will dish out its first dose on January 25.
Asda said in a statement: ‘Individuals in priority groups will receive their appointment from the NHS and have the option to select the Asda store as a convenient location to receive their vaccination. They should not contact the store directly.
‘Asda has also offered NHS England the full use of its 238 in-store pharmacies and qualified pharmacists to support the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine programme which has just begun.
‘As this variant of the vaccine is easier to transport and store, it could be administered from Asda’s full network of in-store pharmacies throughout the country.’
Roger Burnley, Asda CEO and president, said: ‘We are incredibly proud to provide this service and are keen to do all we can to help the NHS and Government accelerate the rollout of the vaccination programme.
‘We have an extensive nationwide logistics network that could support the storage and distribution of the vaccine and our highly-trained pharmacy colleagues are experienced in delivering large vaccination programmes, having recently provided nearly 200,000 flu jabs to members of the public.
‘We are on hand to provide the NHS with any practical support required so that more people can quickly receive the vaccine.’
Quizzed over reports that GPs are having to pause vaccinations to let other practices catch up, the Health Secretary told BBC Radio’s 4 Today Programme: ‘The rate-limiting step on the rollout is the supply of the vaccine itself.
‘We are now managing to get that supply more than we have done before and it will increase over the next few weeks.
‘We have the capacity to get that vaccine out. The challenge is that we need to get the vaccine in.
‘What I know is that the supply will increase over the next few weeks and that means the very rapid rate that we are going at at the moment will continue to accelerate over the next couple of weeks.’
Britain’s vaccine drive has started to pick up pace following the approval of the Oxford vaccine but has still only seen 2.43million people immunised against the disease since launching at the beginning of December.
Another 20,000 second doses were also added onto the cumulative total, with 2.8million shots administered in total.
But the daily vaccination figure needs to double if the Prime Minister has any chance of delivering on his pledge to vaccinate all 13.9million Britons in the top four priority groups by February 15.
With just 34 days left to deliver on his lockdown-ending promise, around 11.5million over-70s, NHS workers, care home residents and workers, and adults with underlying conditions still need to be vaccinated — the equivalent of around 340,000 a day.
In a bid to speed up the sluggish programme, it emerged today that easyJet cabin crew are being recruited by the NHS as vaccinators to bolster the rollout.
The airline wrote to the PM in November to offer 3,000 crew who are first aid trained, security cleared and based in every major UK city.
Crew who apply will be fast-tracked to become trained vaccinators at NHS vaccination centres across the country and will undergo online training and onsite immunisation training to become fully-qualified in administering the vaccine.
Minister have promised o dish out 2million jabs a week by the end of January through 2,700 centres dotted across the country. The map shows the sites that are currently up and running, including seven mass centres (green), more than 100 hospitals (blue), as well as GP practices and pharmacies (purple)
Thousands of Britons who have received their Covid jab ‘will be offered a vaccine passport’ in trial taking place this month
Thousands of Britons who have already received their coronavirus jab will be offered a vaccine passport in a trial taking place this month after ministers flip-flopped over the controversial policy.
The passport, created by biometrics firm iProov and cybersecurity firm Mvine, will be issued as a free app and will allow users to prove digitally if they have had their first or second jab – or no jab at all.
Though the Department of Health said there were ‘no plans’ to introduce vaccine passports, the Government’s own science and research funding agency Innovate UK has already pumped £75,000 into the project.
Mvine director Frank Joshi said the company, which had started working on the passports to demonstrate test results, later acquired more funding to switch into vaccination passporting.
The Government-backed trial will be overseen by two directors of public health in local authorities and is expected to last until March – right through the third national lockdown.
However, the locations have yet to be agreed, according to the Telegraph.
The trial is expected to show how the passports can be used to help the NHS keep track of the number of people that have received their first or second jab.
iProov boss Andrew Bud told the paper: ‘We’re talking about a piece of remarkable technology that can be brought to bear and can be readily integrated with the NHS.’
Both companies added that if the vaccine passports prove successful, the project could be rolled out to millions of people across the country.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘As large numbers of people from at risk groups are vaccinated, we will be able to gather the evidence to prove the impact on infection rates, hospitalisation and reduced deaths. If successful, this should in time lead to a reassessment of current restrictions.’
The Government has contradicted itself on the implementation of vaccine passports, with Michael Gove saying they were ‘not the plan’ while Boris Johnson’s vaccine tsar Nadhim Zahawi said they were ‘looking at the technology’.
Mr Zahawi later told a Westminster Hall debate on Covid-19 inoculation there were ‘absolutely no plans for vaccine passporting’ and said ‘mandating vaccinations is discriminatory and completely wrong’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week also denied plans to implement passporting, telling the Spectator: ‘It’s not an area that we’re looking at.’
The policy has sparked concern that the passports could discriminate against people who must not be vaccinated, such as pregnant women. Others fear it could keep non-vaccinated Britons under house arrest until they have a jab.
The idea of introducing vaccination certifications has already been floated in Europe, with Greek ministers suggesting that EU countries adopt a ‘standardised’ vaccine passport in order to promote travel and boost the industry.
In a letter to EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis suggested: ‘Persons who have been vaccinated should be free to travel.
‘It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member states’.
The governments of Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Spain, Denmark and Belgium have all hinted that they would support such a scheme – although the idea is already raising concerns about privacy and data-sharing.
EasyJet said: ‘As easyJet continues to operate a reduced schedule as a result of the pandemic, our furloughed crew has an ideal skill set to be able to assist in the effort to provide much needed inoculation support to the NHS in rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine.’
Katy Bryant who has been cabin crew for easyJet since 2005 and is based at Luton, added: ‘Like everyone, I’m incredibly grateful to our NHS and all frontline healthcare workers for all they continue to do for the country with the continued pressure they are facing from the virus, so when the opportunity came for cabin crew to assist the NHS as vaccinators I knew I wanted to apply.
‘As cabin crew we are in a great position to support the vaccination effort because of the first aid and safety-focused training we receive for our job, so I am sure I will be joined by many of my fellow cabin crew at easyJet who will want to support the NHS in the vital roll-out of the vaccine across the country.’
But amid reports of supply chain issues, Brigadier Phil Prosser, the head of military support to the coronavirus vaccination programme, warned of the huge logistical challenges involved in scaling up the rollout.
Appearing on BBC Breakfast, he summarised the challenge: ‘It’s an untested supply chain, brand new vaccines, the largest vaccination programme this country has ever delivered.
‘The amount of sites we’ve set up and the amount of vaccine we have to distribute … it’s complex by its very scale.’
Brigadier Prosser said the military were bringing ‘operational planning excellence’ and working ‘hand in glove’ alongside the NHS.
He said planning included ensuring the vaccine was distributed across the country, including ‘the hardest-to-reach cohorts, as well as those most at risk’.
He added: ‘This isn’t about keeping vaccine in the warehouse, it’s about getting it in the arms as quickly as possible.’
He said the majority of clinical roles were being done by the NHS, but 21 quick reaction forces could ‘plug any gaps at short notice’ and could be deployed to hospitals, local vaccination services and large mass vaccination centres.
Pressure to adopt a 24/7 vaccination scheme peaked yesterday as Nicola Sturgeon today hinted Scotland was considering the tactic.
She said: ‘We will look at anything and everything that allows us to get this vaccination programme done as quickly as possible’.
Ms Sturgeon said supplies of the vaccine were still ‘relatively limited’, and that with the focus currently on getting jabs to care home residents and those aged over 80, these groups did ‘not lend themselves to out-of-hours vaccination’.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Commons that military personnel can ‘do more to assist’, as he suggested that the hold-up was due to a lack of stock and problems in the supply chain.
He added: ‘I could deploy all 100,000 soldiers tomorrow ready to vaccinate but if the stock isn’t there then we’ll have people not… we could employ them better off.
‘We are very, very clear that we can do more to assist, the Prime Minister knows that and the Prime Minister has indicated that we will be called on as the NHS requires it.’
Officials have said the PM read NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens the riot act in a series of ‘tough’ exchanges last week as the Government comes under pressure to halt the cycle of lockdowns.
Downing Street and the NHS said relations had since improved as the No10 now tries to accelerate the roll-out by approving 24/7 vaccine centres.
Tensions between Sir Simon and Mr Johnson had been simmering since before Christmas when the PM was concerned that some non-frontline NHS staff had been vaccinated before people aged 80 and over.
One person briefed on the clash claimed Mr Johnson had invited Brigadier Phil Prosser, who is leading the Army’s vaccine taskforce, to a Downing Street press conference last week to warn Sir Simon that the military would be given a bigger role in the programme unless the roll-out was sped up.
But NHS insiders told the Financial Times that Sir Simon had proposed Brig Prosser’s attendance at the conference and rejected claims of tension with the PM. No10 called reports of tension ‘completely untrue’, adding: ‘It’s a really good relationship.’
Meanwhile, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said coronavirus was unlikely to be eradicated and regular vaccinations may be needed.
He told LBC Radio it was unlikely a new variant would ‘outwit’ the current vaccines and his ‘hunch’ was that they would remain effective for months.
‘We know that the vaccines make what we call a polyclonal response. They make lots of different antibodies to different types, basically.
‘Therefore, the idea that a mutation of the virus would in one go out with the whole of the vaccine is pretty low.
‘So if we were to see an effect, it would be a small degradation rather than going off a cliff.’
Asked whether, in time, an annual jab would be required against a different strain, as happens with flu, Prof Van-Tam said: ‘I can’t say it will be every year yet but I can say that I don’t think we will ever eradicate coronavirus.’
Giving his best estimate on how long the current vaccine would be effective against mutations, he said ‘how long is a piece of string’ but ‘I would say it’s going to be many months that the vaccine is going to work for, but I’m not basing that on data, I’m basing it on a hunch’.
Professor Van-Tam also defended the decision to prioritise giving a first vaccine jab to as many people as possible rather than keeping doses to deliver booster shots after three weeks.
He told LBC Radio ‘we are in a constrained supply situation’ because of the time it takes to supply vaccine doses.
‘We have all got older loved ones and if we want to protect as many as we can as quickly as possible, with a meaningful amount of protection, then the right strategy for us is to give the initial first dose and come back for the second when we have given more people the initial first dose,’ he said.
‘If you have got two grandparents and you have got two vaccines, what do you do – do you give two doses to one and leave the other one with nothing?’
With a delay of 10-12 weeks before people will now be given a second shot, Prof Van-Tam admitted there was no data available on what protection would be given by the initial shot at that stage, although he was ‘absolutely comfortable’ with the decision.
‘If you take an extremely purist answer and say ‘where do the data end?’, the data end at 42 days,’ he said.
‘But if you take an expert science viewpoint, it’s just not plausible that the protective effectiveness is going to disappear after that point and we are very confident that there will be plenty of protection on board right up until the second dose is given.’