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UK vaccine minister vows 'massive uplift' in number of jabs this week


The UK vaccine minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has pledged a “massive uplift” in the number of coronavirus vaccinations carried out this week as he said reaching the government’s target of 13.9m jabs offered by February would be “challenging”.

Zahawi, the minister responsible for the vaccine rollout, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My absolute focus is to get to 13.9 million … offered a vaccine by the middle of February, that is my target and I’m confident the NHS has a plan and we will meet that target.”

He said a quarter of over-80s had already been vaccinated. And he added: “Your listeners will see the number [of vaccinations carried out] continue to rise.”

But he refused to specify when the government would reach the 300,000 vaccinations a day that would be required to meet that goal, saying that “the target is big enough and tough enough as it is”.


The government was under pressure on Wednesday to set out the detail of its plans to escalate the vaccination programme, but faced accusations that it had ignored an “army” of small pharmacies ready to play a part in the rollout.

Sandra Gidley, the president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said there were thousands of high street pharmacies who were “ready, willing and able” to assist.

And Simon Dukes, the chief executive of the pharmaceutical negotiating services committee, told the Daily Telegraph: “We’ve been telling the NHS that we’re ready, willing and desperate to help. But we’ve been met by a de facto silence.”

The government’s joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has published a list of groups of people who will be prioritised to receive a vaccine for Covid-19 in the UK. The list is:

1 All those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers.

2 All those 75 and over.

3 All those 70 and over.

4 All those 65 and over.

5 Adults under 65 at high at risk of serious disease and mortality from Covid-19.

6 Adults under 65 at moderate risk of at risk of serious disease and mortality from Covid-19.

7 All those 60 and over.

8 All those 55 and over.

9 All those 50 and over.

10 Rest of the population.

While Zahawi did not dispute that nobody had yet contacted smaller pharmacies he promised that they would soon be part of the process, saying: “We will make sure that community pharmacies and the independent sector are involved, and that we deliver what I think is a very credible plan.”

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The controversy over what role should be played by pharmacies came as England’s third national lockdown came into force legally overnight, with a retrospective parliamentary vote on the measures due later on Wednesday expected to pass comfortably.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, will meanwhile outline a package of support for young people after students in England were told this year’s GCSE and A-level exams would be scrapped.

Dr Susan Hopkins, the deputy director of the national infections service at Public Health England (PHE), said coronavirus cases were still rising.

“This position is the most serious we’ve been in so far this pandemic,” she told BBC Breakfast. “We are now seeing a number of patients in hospitals 40% higher than the cases at the peak in March/April. And we know that the cases in the community are still rising. And that means that we expect to see further admissions to hospital, and we expect to see further deaths.”

However, she said medics had gained experience over the last year in treating Covid-19 and had access to more treatments.

Zahawi said the target to get almost 14 million people vaccinated by next month was “stretching” but he was confident it would be delivered.

He told Sky News: “It’s a big target, and I think the prime minister is right to set challenging targets. We need to get on with this and do it as quickly but as safely as possible.”

The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told Sky News that there was a need “to ensure that the government machine is absolutely focused on this, ensuring that there is no red tape, for example for those who want to come back to the NHS … and to ensure that we have premises available all around the country.”

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