Vaccinating 13 million people in the top four priority groups by mid-February is “realistic but not easy”, Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer has warned.
As community pharmacists asked why they were not being recruited to help achieve PM Boris Johnson ’s target, Mr Whitty told the No10 briefing: “The NHS is going to have to use multiple channels to get this out. They are determined to do this, but that does not make it easy.”
The NHS is only administering around 300,000 vaccines a week at 700 GP-led sites and hospital hubs.
That needs to increase to an average of 2.2 million a week to meet the 13 million target.
Pubs and supermarkets on Tuesday offered to become vaccine centres, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the Government to use the latest lockdowns to create a “round-the-clock” vaccination scheme in order to end “this nightmare”.
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Only a small number of pharmacists have been recruited, mainly at GP-led clinics.
The majority who run 14,000 community pharmacies are not being utilised so far.
Sandra Gidley, Royal Pharmaceutical Society president, said: “Community pharmacists already provide flu and travel vaccinations.
“The NHS has a ready-made workforce of skilled vaccinators who should play their part. The local pharmacist might be the easiest healthcare setting for people to get to.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, 1.3 million people in the UK had received a first dose. Almost one in four people in England – 13 million – live in areas with no vaccination hub, the Sunday Times found.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “Some of the vulnerable will need to travel long distances to get the vaccine, when they could have it in their local community. We are baffled by how community pharmacies have not yet been utilised.”
Boots, Lloyds and Superdrug have been involved in setting up vaccination centres, and NHS England said community pharmacists would be utilised, but it was finalising details of how many.
A spokeswoman said: “As more supply becomes available, community pharmacists able to administer large numbers of vaccines will be the first to play a role.”
NHS England is not revealing how many volunteer vaccinators it has recruited, saying only “tens of thousands” had signed up.
In England, 1.1 million jabs have been administered, with 650,000 over-80s, 23% of the age group, now vaccinated. Mr Johnson told the No10 briefing in two to three weeks’ time they would have a “significant degree of immunity”. He said: “This is a huge effort, the biggest vaccination programme in the history of this country.”
There are currently around 600 GP-led sites and 107 hospital hubs administering vaccines. Mr Johnson said 180 more GP clinics and 100 hospitals would be vaccinating by the end of the week.
He said delays were due to random checks being carried out on each batch of vaccine, but medics have expressed concerns about a lack of vaccinators. GPs told the Mirror retired medics were deterred by an “overload of bureaucracy”.
Prof Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Vaccinating around two million people a week is challenging. We need the workforce to do this.”
Mr Johnson pledged daily updates on vaccinations from next week.
Craft brewer BrewDog claims it is in talks with ministers about turning closed bars into temporary jab hubs.
Pub chains such as Young’s, Marston’s and Loungers have offered their venues as potential vaccine sites.
Morrisons car parks will be used as vaccine centres after Tesco offered use of its lorries. Three of Morrisons’ stores will host jabs from Monday, with a further 47 sites made available to the Government, said CEO David Potts.
Israel has approved a third vaccine in the Moderna jab. A report this week showed Israel was vaccinating 10 times faster than the UK, already reaching 11% of the population.
The French government is under fire after vaccinating fewer than 600 people in its first seven days due to bureaucracy.
The Dutch government only began administering jabs on Wednesday, making it the last of the EU’s 27 nations to do so. Germany had carried out 265,000 vaccinations by Monday.