Covid vaccine UK: Man, 82, first to get Oxford AstraZeneca jab

A blame game erupted today over who is responsible for the slow roll-out of Oxford University’s vaccine after Boris Johnson pointed the finger at Britain’s medical regulator and Matt Hancock suggested it was the manufacturer’s fault.

The Government appears to be trying to pass the buck for the vaccination programme before it has even had a chance to fail, with the Prime Minister saying the scheme was being stalled because officials were waiting for batches of the jab to be approved by the regulator.

The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was the first in the world to approve both the Pfizer and the Oxford jabs — but it has stipulated that every batch of vaccine has to be individually inspected and quality controlled when it reaches the UK before being injected into Brits’ arms.

Wading into the row today, Dr June Raine, chief of the MHRA, dismissed the PM’s claim that the batch approval process was stalling the roll out and suggested it was issues further back in the supply chain. Dr Raine said her team was ‘nimble and quick’ and could approve a batch in under 24 hours. 

She told the BBC: ‘It’s a supply chain that goes right back from the manufacturer, right through to MHRA, and then on to the clinical bedside or where the vaccines are delivered, so we are a step on the road but our capacity is there, I’m very clear about that… I was really proud last Wednesday when we approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, that we had approved the first batch the night before. We are that nimble and that quick.’ 

Matt Hancock also appeared to point the finger at AstraZeneca, the British drug firm responsible for making and distributing the Oxford jab, for the slow scale-up. The Health Secretary insisted the NHS was ready to administer doses of the Oxford University vaccine as quickly as it received them, but he added: ‘The supply isn’t there yet’.

And Professor Stephen Powis, director of NHS England, added: ‘If we get two million per week, our aim is to get two million into people’s arms a week.’ 

The NHS today started to dish out Oxford/AstraZeneca’s game-changing Covid vaccine in what has been called a ‘pivotal moment’ in the fight against the pandemic, with an 82-year-old dialysis patient becoming the first person to receive the jab.

Brian Pinker, a retired maintenance manager who describes himself as Oxford born and bred, revealed he was ‘so pleased’ to get the vaccine and was ‘really proud’ it was developed in his city. Mr Pinker is now looking forward to celebrating his 48th wedding anniversary next month with wife Shirley.

Only 530,000 doses of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine will be available for vulnerable people this week with ‘tens of millions’ promised by April. It is claimed that the firm kept the first batch of supplies in ‘drug substance’ form while regulators were assessing it for approval.

AstraZeneca bosses have pledged to deliver 2million doses a week by mid-January. But that ambitious target may be further off than hoped, with fears that the UK won’t receive enough supplies until February because of ‘capacity issues’ in manufacturing. 

Matt Hancock — who today revealed increasing the country’s manufacturing capacity was ‘a big medium-term project’ — also promised the ‘bureaucracy’ involved in signing up to volunteer would be slashed. It was revealed last week that thousands of retired medics desperate to join the frontline and dish out the jabs were tied up in red tape and blocked from joining the national effort, which will involve the Armed Forces.

Fears are also mounting that Covid vaccines could be ineffective against the South African mutation. Mr Hancock said today he was ‘incredibly worried’ about the strain, which has already been spotted in Britain and is claimed to be even more infectious than the Kent variant that is spreading rapidly across the UK. 

Brian Pinker, a retired maintenance manager who describes himself as Oxford born and bred, said he was 'so pleased' to be getting the vaccine and was 'really proud' it was developed in his city

Brian Pinker, a retired maintenance manager who describes himself as Oxford born and bred, said he was ‘so pleased’ to be getting the vaccine and was ‘really proud’ it was developed in his city

88-year-old Trevor Cowlett receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford as the NHS ramps up its vaccination programme

88-year-old Trevor Cowlett receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford as the NHS ramps up its vaccination programme

Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as Jennifer Dumasi is injected with the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London this morning

Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as Jennifer Dumasi is injected with the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London this morning

Mr Johnson speaks to NHS staff waiting to be vaccinated against coronavirus during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital

Mr Johnson speaks to NHS staff waiting to be vaccinated against coronavirus during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital

Matt Hancock today revealed increasing the country's manufacturing capacity was 'a big medium-term project'

Matt Hancock today revealed increasing the country’s manufacturing capacity was ‘a big medium-term project’

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and a professor of paediatric infection and immunity, gives the thumbs-up after getting the vaccine

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and a professor of paediatric infection and immunity, gives the thumbs-up after getting the vaccine

Vaccines may not work against mutated South African Covid variant

Coronavirus vaccines could be ineffective against the highly-infectious South African mutation, a scientist who helped develop the Oxford jab has warned.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said the African strain is more concerning than the Kent one.

Vaccines are believed to be effective against the highly-infectious UK variant VUI-202012/01 currently causing a massive spike in cases across the country.

But he said the South African variant 501.V2 – detected in two locations in Britain – has ‘really pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein’ meaning vaccines could fail to work.

The Covid vaccine protects against the disease by teaching the immune system how to fight off the pathogen.

It creates antibodies – disease-fighting proteins made and stored to fight off invaders in the future by latching onto their spike proteins. 

But if they are unable to recognise proteins because they have mutated, it means the body may struggle to attack a virus the second time and lead to a second infection. 

The South African variant emerged in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, which was the first major urban area to be hit by the country’s second wave. 

It was discovered in mid-December and caused Covid cases to soar from fewer than 3,000 a day at the start of the month to more than 9,500 per day by Christmas, accounting for up to 90 percent of those new infections.

 

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Mr Hancock told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa and movement from South Africa and in fact to insist that anybody who’d been to South Africa to isolate.

‘This is a very, very significant problem, in fact I spoke to my South African opposite number over Christmas and one of the reasons they know they have a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic-scientific [programme] to be able to study the details of the virus and it is even more of a problem than the UK new variant.’

Sir John Bell, one of the Government’s coronavirus advisers, yesterday warned there was a ‘big question mark’ over whether any of the jabs could protect against the mutation. There is no evidence the South African variant is more deadly or causes more severe illness than regular Covid.

Mr Pinker, receiving his vaccine this morning, said: ‘I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford. 

‘I never thought for a second that I wouldn’t have it, I was just lucky to be the first one.

‘It gives us the hope we can get back to doing some of the things we enjoy – like getting on the bus to Milton Keynes and Aylesbury and going out for the day, or just popping to the bookies. 

‘The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year.’ 

Sam Foster, chief nursing officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who administered the vaccine to Mr Pinker, said: ‘It was a real privilege to be able to deliver the first Oxford vaccine at the Churchill Hospital here in Oxford, just a few hundred metres from where it was developed.

‘We look forward to vaccinating many more patients and health and care staff with the Oxford vaccine in the coming weeks which will make a huge difference to people living in the communities we serve and the staff who care for them in our hospitals.’

On another day of coronavirus chaos:

  • Matt Hancock warned that ‘nothing is ruled out’ to contain mutant Covid as he defied Tory anger to hint the whole of England will be under Tier Four within days;
  • Teaching unions united to try to shut down all schools as headteachers revolted en masse against Boris Johnson’s plea to stay open leaving millions of parents to begin homeschooling their children for at least a fortnight; 
  • Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce tougher coronavirus restrictions for Scotland, in a move which could see schools closed until the middle of February;
  • Grim NHS figures showed the number of beds occupied by Covid patients increased by the equivalent of ’12 full hospitals’ in the eight days from Christmas.

Number 10 has ordered 100million doses of Oxford vaccine, which it is hoped will free the UK from the seemingly endless cycle of lockdowns.

Oxford scientist who led Covid vaccine trials is given jab 

One of the leading scientists behind Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine was given the jab this morning.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, became the third person in the world to receive the jab this morning at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital. 

He was prioritised because of his work as a consultant paediatrician at Oxford Children’s Hospital.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – which decides who gets priority for the jabs – says frontline NHS workers should be among the first to be immunised.

Over a quarter of all infections are still occurring in hospitals and Covid-19 preys on the sick and elderly. 

Professor Pollard said it was an ‘incredibly proud moment’ to receive the vaccine he helped create. 

He added: ‘As a paediatrician specialising in infections, I know how important it is that healthcare workers along with other priority groups are protected as soon as possible – a crucial role in defeating this terrible disease.’

Professor Pollard said that with record daily case numbers, the next few weeks would be a challenge despite the optimism provided by rollout of Oxford’s vaccine.

‘This is a really critical moment. We are at the point of being overwhelmed by this disease,’ he told BBC TV. ‘I think it gives us a bit of hope, but I think we’ve got some tough weeks ahead.’

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But Britain — which was planning to have 4million doses ready for when it was approved last week — has only currently got access to 530,000 doses.  

Millions more are to be delivered in the coming weeks and months once batches have been quality checked. 

Britain’s medical regulator was the first in the world to approve both the Pfizer and the Oxford jabs. But the regulator has stipulated that every batch of vaccine has to be inspected and signed off when it reaches the UK before being injected into Brits’ arms.

Boris Johnson said that the limiting factor in expanding the UK’s vaccine rollout was not supply or staff but waiting for batches to be approved.

He added: ‘We have the capacity, the issue is to do with supply of the vaccine. It’s not so much a manufacturing issue although that’s part of it. Each batch needs to be properly approved and quality controlled.’

But the PM promised there will be a ‘massive ramp up’ in vaccination numbers in the coming weeks. He added: ‘There’s a massive ramp up operation now going on.

‘The rate limiting factor is now not supply of vaccines although we want that to go faster, it’s getting them properly tested and getting them to the NHS.

‘It’s not the ability to distribute the vaccine, it’s not the shortage of staff. It’s getting it properly tested. That will ramp up in the weeks ahead.’

Elderly people and NHS workers at hospitals across Oxford, London, Brighton, Lancashire and Warwickshire were among the first to receive the Oxford jab this morning.

The bulk of the doses will then be sent to hundreds of GP-led services and care homes later in the week for wider rollout, according to the Department of Health. 

Discussing the roll-out, Mr Hancock said: ‘This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight.’

MPs and experts have called for the vaccines to be given out at lightning speed in a desperate bid to stop the spread of the new coronavirus variant, which new evidence suggests may be so infectious that lockdowns can barely contain it.

There are around 31.7million people on the official waiting list for a jab, which includes everyone over the age of 50, people who are younger but seriously ill, and millions of NHS and social care workers.

Top experts insist 2million vaccines must be administered each week, if Britain has any chance of returning to normal by Easter. 

Even at this ambitious speed – six times the rate vaccinations are currently being given out – it would take until April to get one dose to everyone on the priority list. 

However, this doesn’t take into account how patients need their second dose within 12 weeks.  

But there is hope restrictions can be lifted before the list is completed, with officials having previously admitted restrictions can be eased ‘when enough people who are vulnerable to Covid-19 have been vaccinated then’. 

Professor Stephen Powis, director of NHS England, said: ‘We are going to get this out as quickly as possible. We need to get the supplies through. This is a new vaccine.

The documents include proof they have completed 'Preventing Radicalisation' training

Ex-medics wanting to be deployed straight onto the frontlines to dish out the jabs have complained of the bizarre requirement to submit up to 21 documents in their application, including evidence that they have had any Prevent Radicalisation training

Q&A: I’ve had Covid. So do I still need this? 

Who can get a Covid vaccine?

Every adult in Britain will be able to get one unless doctors advise against it. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can have the jab if medics believe the benefits outweigh the risks.

When will I get it?

The first people to get the jabs will be the 22 million at the highest risk of dying from Covid and those who work for the NHS or in care homes. If you not on are the priority list, you are unlikely to get the jab until much later in the year.

Can I buy it?

The vaccines are provided free on the NHS and cannot be bought privately in the UK. The NHS will invite people for the vaccine by phone, text or letter.

What if I’ve had Covid?

You still need the vaccine because the immunity you get from being infected is believed to be only short-lived.

Do we have enough vaccines?

We have 530,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine ready to go, but 100 million have been ordered. By the beginning of April about 10 million people should have been vaccinated. Boris Johnson has promised that ‘by Easter… things will be very much better’. Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, believes the 22 million people most vulnerable to the virus will have jabs by ‘late spring’.

How many people have been vaccinated so far?

Just under one million.

Where will I get it?

It will be available from GP surgeries, hospitals and mass vaccination centres in sporting venues and conference centres (see graphic right).

Which jabs are available?

The UK has approved two for use so far – one by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. You will not be able to choose which one you receive. Both vaccines require two doses.

What is the gap between doses?

The second Pfizer jab can be given three to 12 weeks after the first and the Oxford vaccine four to 12 weeks later. The Government last week ruled that the gap should be 12 weeks, saying that ‘vaccinating a greater number of people with a single dose will prevent more deaths and hospitalisations than vaccinating a smaller number with two doses’.

How effective are the jabs?

Trials suggest the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is 73 per cent effective 22 days after the first dose, rising to 80 per cent if the second dose is taken after 12 weeks. Trials show the Pfizer vaccine is 95 per cent effective.

How long does it take for the vaccines to start to work?

About two weeks.

Will having the jab mean I can ignore local tier restrictions?

No. You will be bound by the law until the restrictions lift.

Why will the Oxford jab speed up vaccination?

The Oxford jab is cheaper – costing £3 a dose, compared to £15. It is also made in the UK, and does not require storage at extremely low temperatures of -70C, but can be kept in a normal fridge.

Are the vaccines safe?

Yes. Both have passed clinical trials and been tested on thousands of people.

Will the jabs protect against the mutant variant of Covid?

Tests are being carried out but early indications are that both will protect against the latest variant of the virus.

Will children get a jab?

No. Children are not severely affected by Covid-19 so will not receive jabs. 

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‘AstraZeneca are ramping up producing and batches will be coming through. We have half a million to come. If we get two million per week, our aim is to get two million into people’s arms a week.

‘We have been preparing in the NHS for months to deliver the biggest vaccination programme in out history and I am confident we will be able to do that Assuming the supply is there, we do have the workforce available.’ 

An army of current and former NHS staff have applied to give the jabs, with tens of thousands having already completed their training.

But serious questions remain about the race to vaccinate the rest of the nation – with retired medics last week complaining they were tied up in red tape. 

Some former doctors keen to join the frontline were asked for 21 documents proving they are trained in subjects such as counter-terrorism and racial equality.

Discussing the red tape preventing ex-medics from joining the roll-out, Mr Hancock said Number 10 was going to ‘reduce the amount of bureaucracy that is needed there’. 

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘For instance, there’s one of the training programmes about needing to tackle terrorism. I don’t think that’s necessary, we’re going to stop that.

‘And we’re going through the different parts of that process to streamline it as much as possible but again that isn’t the rate-limiting step.

‘Because at the moment the NHS, with the people that it has got already, is able to deliver the vaccine as it can be produced, but obviously I want to make that easier.’

Professor Powis echoed Mr Hancock’s claims that the NHS will ‘minimise the bureaucracy people will go through, to ensure people volunteer’. 

He added: ‘We want people to come forward. We are still looking for people because we want to get this into people’s arms very quickly.’

High street pharmacists said today they are ‘baffled’ not to have been called up to help deliver the UK’s ambitious Covid vaccine roll out.

Number 10 wants to immunise two million Britons against the disease every week to get rid of the most draconian lockdown restrictions by Easter.

But the Government faces a series of logistical hurdles in order to achieve the target, including trying to recruit enough people to administer the record number of doses.

The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said the 11,500 pharmacies it represents in England were on standby to start delivering the jabs immediately.  

Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of AIMP, told MailOnline: ‘We are baffled by how the accessibility, skills and affordability that community pharmacies offer has not yet been utilised in accelerating this programme and help get the country out of the grip of this virus sooner.

‘Pharmacies are very conveniently placed within every community to help deliver the Covid vaccination service at scale and support the NHS, particularly the AstraZeneca vaccine because it does not present the same logistical challenges as the Pfizer vaccine.’

An army of tens of thousands of medics and volunteer support staff have been recruited to help deliver the Oxford vaccine, according to NHS England, which has refused to give specific numbers.

But just last week, GPs warned of a need for a bigger recruitment drive and called for retired medics, the army, midwives and other non-frontline health staff all to be signed up.

The AIMP said its tens of thousands of staff could start administering the jabs immediately, which would spare the NHS from having to train-up new recruits.

Ms Hannbeck added: ‘Pharmacists are already trained to do vaccinations and the vast majority have the facilities to do this conveniently, so why aren’t their skills and expertise being deployed as an urgent priority right now ?

‘Because community pharmacy is currently involved in the national NHS flu vaccination it would be logical and save tax payers resource to utilise existing structures and resources within one of the few areas of retail which have remained open continuously throughout the pandemic and lockdowns.

‘It is likely if done through pharmacy then more patients wound comply with booster recalls and uptake of covid-19 in general. Pharmacy staff are very comfortable with managing patients’ concerns and are trusted to take their advice.

‘Public feedback around community pharmacy continues to rate its accessibility, professionalism and efficiency veryhighly – a recent survey of the public highlighted that over 70 per cent of the people were very happy to receive vaccination through their local community pharmacy.’

Britain faces lockdown limbo as Matt Hancock hints at tougher curbs

Matt Hancock today warned ‘nothing is ruled out’ to contain mutant Covid as he defied Tory anger to hint the whole of England will be under Tier 4 within days.

The Health Secretary put Britons on notice that stronger restrictions will be needed for months, despite the optimism sparked by the first Oxford vaccine doses being administered.

Responding to demands for another national squeeze, Mr Hancock said all options were on the table. 

But he said the first step will be to escalate even more of the country into the harshest restrictions, saying Tier 3 did not seem able to hold back the highly-infectious mutation spreading across the UK.

He insisted the problem was partly down to people failing to obey the rules, amid calls from some MPs for police to be given more powers. 

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Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine is the second to be made available in the UK, after the drug regulator last month approved the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. 

However, Oxford vaccine is easier to use because it does not need to be stored at extremely low temperatures.

Yesterday Boris Johnson hailed the UK’s vaccine progress. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘The UK remains the first country to get a stage three approved vaccine into people’s arms. 

‘Vaccinating a million people, as we have already, we exceed the whole of the rest of Europe put together.’

He also promised that ‘tens of millions’ of doses will be administered in ‘the next three months’.

A total of 524,439 people already vaccinated are aged 80 and over – around one in five of that age group. 

In hopes of helping Britain pick up pace in the vaccination drive, supermarket giant Tesco and chemist Boots have offered to help with the rollout of the vaccines. 

Boots is opening three Covid vaccination sites in Halifax, Huddersfield and Gloucester, while Tesco will help distribute the Oxford vaccine.   

It comes as it was revealed the Armed Forces will create 150 mobile vaccination teams to deliver Covid jabs as part of a mission dubbed Operation Delta Force. 

Defence sources say the operation – named after the elite US Special Forces unit – will involve teams of medics and logistics experts helping to deliver the vaccine in harsh winter weather.

The plan, which could involve up to 1,500 personnel, is understood to have been approved by Ministers, with troops beginning their training in giving vaccine jabs from this week.  

A fleet of Army Land Rovers is being prepared for the mission with other personnel using Chinook helicopters to reach remote areas.

Football and rugby clubs along with racetracks may be transformed into mobile vaccination centres.

Roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab began almost a month ago. 

Where are the UK’s mass vaccination centres?

The UK has approved 40 large-scale vaccination centres. Here is a list of those with finalised locations:

1. Edinburgh International Conference Centre

2. Newcastle, Centre for Life Science Park

3. Southern Trust – South Lake Leisure Centre, Craigavon

4. Northern Trust – Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena

5. Western Trust – Foyle Arena, Londonderry

6. Omagh Leisure Complex, Omagh

7. Lakeside Leisure Forum, Enniskillen

8. St Helens, Totally Wicked Stadium

9. Manchester Tennis & Football Centre

10. Derby Arena

11. Birmingham – Millennium Point and Black Country Living Museum, Dudley

12. Leicester Racecourse

13. Stevenage, Robertson House Conference Centre

14. London Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel Centre

15. Epsom Racecourse, Surrey 16. Bristol, Ashton Gate football stadium

17. Exeter, Sandy Park rugby stadium 

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But both jabs require second doses which will now take place within 12 weeks rather than 21 days as initially planned to ‘protect the greatest number of people in the shortest time’, health chiefs said.  

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said in May that AstraZeneca, the firm manufacturing the Oxford jab, would work to make 30 million doses available by September.

But only four million are understood to be potentially available pending checks, although tens of millions are due by the end of March.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of SAGE and an epidemiologist at University College London, told Good Morning Britain today: ‘Concern is that capacity issues in manufacturing mean that we don’t get to those levels maybe until February for example.

‘Of course the earlier we can vaccinate people the better and the sooner we will be able to move beyond this.’

The Government was yesterday forced to deny claims there was a ‘postcode lottery’ as GPs in some areas have not agreed to deliver the vaccine. 

Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘The overwhelming majority of GPs have opted to take part in delivering the vaccine through primary care networks. 

‘In areas where they have not yet agreed to take part, the NHS will deliver vaccinations in hospital hubs or dedicated centres.’ 

Earlier this month, AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot promised the firm will be able to deliver two million doses a week by mid-January – meaning 24million could be immunised by Easter.  

But an insider has claimed that the target may be too big for the NHS to handle and said ‘we have never said we will do two million jabs a week’. 

The source told The Daily Telegraph:  ‘We have to manage expectations. You cannot vaccinate two million people a week from nothing.’ 

The NHS says the logistics of the distribution – including training volunteers and preparing sites – may mean the two million-a-week target may take longer to hit than promised.

As it stands, around 300,000 people are getting the jab every seven days.  

Official figures show there had been a further 54,990 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, up 80 per cent from last week’s case figure of 30,501, while the number of deaths had increased by 43 per cent from last Sunday to 454

Two thirds of England's population is now in Tier 4, with the remainder living in Tier 3 lockdowns. Only the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, is in the looser Tier 2

Two thirds of England’s population is now in Tier 4, with the remainder living in Tier 3 lockdowns. Only the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, is in the looser Tier 2

Among those to be vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab from next week will be vulnerable NHS staff and social care workers who are at risk. Pictured: Assistant Technical Officer Lukasz Najdrowski unpacks doses on Monday

Among those to be vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab from next week will be vulnerable NHS staff and social care workers who are at risk. Pictured: Assistant Technical Officer Lukasz Najdrowski unpacks doses on Monday

London is now the epicentre of the outbreak and its hospitals are being stretched with the flood of patients. The weekly rate of cases is double the national average at 858 per 100,000

London is now the epicentre of the outbreak and its hospitals are being stretched with the flood of patients. The weekly rate of cases is double the national average at 858 per 100,000

Hundreds of people are expected to be vaccinated per day at the Princess Royal Hospital site, with efficiency expected to increase after the first few days of the programme, according to Dr Findlay

Hundreds of people are expected to be vaccinated per day at the Princess Royal Hospital site, with efficiency expected to increase after the first few days of the programme, according to Dr Findlay

Tony Blair urges No10 to step up vaccination programme

Former PM Tony Blair urged the government to target five million vaccinations a week – saying it was hard to see how schools could stay open otherwise.

He told Times Radio: ‘If I was the prime minister right now I would be saying to the team in Downing Street, ‘I need you to give me a plan to get this up to five million (vaccinations) a week’.

‘Provided we’ve got the vaccine available and we should have them available. I mean AstraZeneca will, not this week or next week but the week after, be able to get up to two million doses a week, that’s just AstraZeneca.

‘They could probably do more if they knew that the system was capable of absorbing the amount of vaccines that they would produce.

‘You should get clearance for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the end of January, that’s when they complete their trials and then we should be able to get that on stream as well in February.’

Mr Blair said a ‘step change’ in the vaccination programme was the only real prospect of keeping children in schools.

He said: ‘On the one hand, it’s a disaster for school children, particularly poorest school children if they’re not getting educated.

‘But it’s also completely understandable that teachers and parents say, not because they think their children… the risk to children is very, very small, it’s the risk to transmission rates and it’s the risk to teachers and parents, and therefore to those that their parents mix with.

‘So for all of those reasons, it just emphasises yet again why it’s so important to get vaccination under way.’

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England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty this week warned that vaccine availability issues will ‘remain the case for several months’ and while a jab shortage ‘is a reality that cannot be wished away.

The 530,000 doses ready for distribution tomorrow – along with a further 450,000 expected in the coming days – are a fraction of what was promised.  

Yesterday Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, who was involved in development of the jab with AstraZeneca, said successive UK governments had left the nation unable to manufacture vaccine at the pace needed in a pandemic.

A Government spokesman said: ‘We have long recognised the importance of vaccine manufacturing, having announced an innovation centre in 2018 and invested £93million [last year] to rapidly accelerate its construction.’   

But manufactures of both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs have rubbished distribution concerns, saying there is no problem with supply.

It is claimed that there are 15million doses of the Oxford vaccine waiting to be packaged up – while ‘millions’ of doses have been shipped over by Pfizer.

A total of 24million vials are ready to be used or acquired on short notice. 

Meanwhile, there have been concerns that tens of thousands of recently retired GPs, surgeons, and nurses are being put off helping out with the nation’s vaccine drive due to the bureaucracy involved.

Criticism has been mounting of ‘ridiculous’ demands such as a requirement to be certified in fire safety, or trained in preventing radicalisation.

Asked about the complaints, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think it’s absurd and I know that the Health Secretary is taking steps to get rid of that pointless bureaucracy.’

Former PM Tony Blair urged the government to target five million vaccinations a week – saying it was hard to see how schools could stay open otherwise.

He told Times Radio: ‘If I was the prime minister right now I would be saying to the team in Downing Street, ‘I need you to give me a plan to get this up to five million (vaccinations) a week’.

‘Provided we’ve got the vaccine available and we should have them available. I mean AstraZeneca will, not this week or next week but the week after, be able to get up to two million doses a week, that’s just AstraZeneca.

‘They could probably do more if they knew that the system was capable of absorbing the amount of vaccines that they would produce.

‘You should get clearance for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the end of January, that’s when they complete their trials and then we should be able to get that on stream as well in February.’

High street pharmacists ‘baffled’ not to be called up by No10 for vaccine roll out

High street pharmacists said today they are ‘baffled’ not to have been called up to help deliver the UK’s ambitious Covid vaccine roll out.

Number 10 wants to immunise two million Britons against the disease every week to get rid of the most draconian lockdown restrictions by Easter.

But the Government faces a series of logistical hurdles in order to achieve the target, including trying to recruit enough people to administer the record number of doses.

The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said the 11,500 pharmacies it represents in England were on standby to start delivering the jabs immediately.  

Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of AIMP, told MailOnline: ‘We are baffled by how the accessibility, skills and affordability that community pharmacies offer has not yet been utilised in accelerating this programme and help get the country out of the grip of this virus sooner.

‘Pharmacies are very conveniently placed within every community to help deliver the Covid vaccination service at scale and support the NHS, particularly the AstraZeneca vaccine because it does not present the same logistical challenges as the Pfizer vaccine.’

An army of tens of thousands of medics and volunteer support staff have been recruited to help deliver the Oxford vaccine, according to NHS England, which has refused to give specific numbers.

But just last week, GPs warned of a need for a bigger recruitment drive and called for retired medics, the army, midwives and other non-frontline health staff all to be signed up.

The AIMP said its tens of thousands of staff could start administering the jabs immediately, which would spare the NHS from having to train-up new recruits.

Ms Hannbeck added: ‘Pharmacists are already trained to do vaccinations and the vast majority have the facilities to do this conveniently, so why aren’t their skills and expertise being deployed as an urgent priority right now ?

‘Because community pharmacy is currently involved in the national NHS flu vaccination it would be logical and save tax payers resource to utilise existing structures and resources within one of the few areas of retail which have remained open continuously throughout the pandemic and lockdowns.

‘It is likely if done through pharmacy then more patients wound comply with booster recalls and uptake of covid-19 in general. Pharmacy staff are very comfortable with managing patients’ concerns and are trusted to take their advice.

‘Public feedback around community pharmacy continues to rate its accessibility, professionalism and efficiency veryhighly – a recent survey of the public highlighted that over 70 per cent of the people were very happy to receive vaccination through their local community pharmacy.’

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