Nadhim Zahawi, the minister for business and industry, has been placed in charge of overseeing the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine, Downing Street has announced.
No 10 said the Stratford-on-Avon MPwould take on the role until at least next summer.
Zahari will temporarily relinquish responsibility for most areas of his brief at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis). Under the interim arrangement, he will serve as a joint minister between Beis and the Department for Health and Social Care.
Hospitals have been told to prepare for the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in as little as nine days time, with NHS workers expected to be at the front of the queue.
NHS bosses said hospitals in England could expect to receive their first deliveries of a vaccine produced by the US drugmaker Pfizer and the German biotech firm BioNTech as soon as 7 December, with regulatory approval anticipated within days.
The UK has placed orders for 100m doses of the Oxford vaccine – enough to vaccinate most of the population – with rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
It also has orders for 40m doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been shown to have a 95% efficacy rate, and 5m doses from US firm Moderna, which trials suggest is similarly effective.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “Only days ago Labour called for a vaccines minister to oversee the huge logistical challenge of widespread vaccination.
“We now need a mass public health campaign urging uptake of the vaccine, alongside ensuring the resources are in place for GPs and other health professionals to rapidly roll this out as soon as possible.”
Zahawi, a businessman and co-founder of the polling firm YouGov, said this week he was concerned that his Stratford-on-Avon constituency had been placed in the third tier of restrictions.
“I am hugely disappointed and sad that Warwickshire will be moving into tier 3 next week, in particular because of the effect this will have on our hospitality and tourism industries who have already been through so much this year,” he said according to local press. “It seems that the high numbers of infections, especially among those over 60, and hospitalisations in the north of the county have counted against us.
“I understand the concerns raised by large numbers of constituents about why the restrictions in Stratford-on-Avon are being affected by factors in areas further away from us than from our immediate neighbours, such as Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, both of whom will be moving into tier 2 next week.
“The whole county therefore needs to work together to drive down infections so we can follow our neighbouring counties into tier 2 when these restrictions are reviewed in a fortnight’s time. I will do all I can to push and make the case for this happen.”