politics

NHS needs to deliver at least 2m jabs a week to fulfil government target


The NHS will have to start delivering at least 2m jabs a week from next week if it is to fulfil the government’s plan to vaccinate everyone in the four highest-priority groups by mid-February.

The four groups the prime minister said will have a first dose amount to 13.9 million people in England, according to Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister.

Boris Johnson’s target implies a sharp increase in the rate of vaccination, with the bulk of the burden likely to fall to GPs who said on Monday that staffing could limit their ability to ratchet up delivery.

The four groups are everyone aged over 70, plus close to 3 million health and social care workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and around 400,000 care home residents. GPs have already been offered a £10 bonus for every care home resident they vaccinate in January.

Around a million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have been administered in the last month and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said 530,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab were available to the NHS on Monday. Sir John Bell, the regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, has said a further 450,000 doses are due this week.

After those doses, 11.9m more jabs are to be delivered in the following five to six weeks, depending on how the government defines mid-February. That implies an average speed of between 2m and 2.4m doses per week.

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive said on 30 December his company would be able to provide 2m doses a week, after delivering one million a week for the first fortnight of the rollout.

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Doctors said the AstraZeneca vaccine is quicker to deliver and can also be deployed more easily to different locations because it only needs to be kept at fridge temperature, unlike Pfizer’s which must be kept at -70C.

“As long as we have the vaccines we can give it to them in a matter of days so [delivery] is primarily down to the supply,” said Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee. “Within weeks we should have supplies to get the first dose into all care home residents.”

However, it is the government’s policy to provide recipients with just the first dose of the jabs, with a gap of 12 weeks until the second dose, rather than the two to three weeks that the manufacturers have recommended. The PM said this would remove “huge numbers of people from the path of the virus, and of course that will enable us to lift many of the restrictions”. The extent to which they will continue to be potential virus carriers is less certain.

Care home operators said on Monday they were unlikely to lift restrictions on visiting as soon as the vaccinations were complete in order to find out more about how they affect infection spread.

“It feels right to be cautious about what vaccination will mean in relation to homes opening up in a big way,” said Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit care operators.



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