Boris Johnson on Thursday admitted to early problems with the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme but insisted the government was on track to hit its target of inoculating almost 14m people by February 15.
Amid complaints from some doctors and MPs about delayed deliveries of vaccines, the prime minister said there would be “lumpiness” and “bumpiness” in the initial stages of the programme.
Mr Johnson, speaking at a Downing Street press conference, said the vaccine deployment was a “national challenge on the scale like nothing we have seen before” and that there would be “difficulties” ahead.
However, he said that he was confident there would be enough supply to vaccinate four priority groups of Britons by February 15 including health and care workers, those over 70 and the clinically vulnerable. So far almost 1.5m vaccinations have been delivered throughout the UK.
Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, agreed there would be “bumps in the road” with the vaccination programme but said the public would not hear about where everything was running smoothly.
new Covid-19 cases reported in the latest 24 hour period
Phil Prosser, the British army commander overseeing military support to the programme, said the initiative was “unparalleled in its scale and complexity”.
But the commander of 101 Logistic Brigade said his team was used to building supply chains at speed in war zones.
Ministers are in a race against time to ramp up vaccinations after a new more transmissible strain of coronavirus pushed Mr Johnson on Monday to introduce England’s third national lockdown in less than a year.
There were 52,618 new Covid-19 cases reported in the latest 24 hour period, and 1,162 deaths: the highest mortality rate since the spring of last year.
Sir Simon said there were now 50 per cent more hospital inpatients with coronavirus than last April, at the peak of the first wave of the disease.
Mr Johnson announced that all care home residents would be offered a vaccine dose by the end of the month.
He also said he wanted people to be given access to a jab within 10 miles of where they lived and would introduce a national booking service for appointments.
By the end of next week, the government wants vaccinations to be available at more than 1,000 general practitioner-led sites, 223 hospitals and seven large facilities.
On Thursday, the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at GP-led sites began amid increasing reports that some deliveries to doctors have been delayed.
At one GP surgery in north London visited by health secretary Matt Hancock, doctors said that there had been hiccups in the rollout process.
Ammara Hughes, a GP and partner at Bloomsbury Surgery in Camden, told Sky News: “We were expecting our first AstraZeneca [vaccine] today, but we’ve had a pushback for 24 hours so we’re now getting that delivery tomorrow.”
Meanwhile council leaders in Birmingham complained they had not yet received doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and claimed that their stocks of the Pfizer alternative would run out by Friday, prompting local MPs to write to Mr Hancock to ask for deliveries.
But Andy Street, the Conservative mayor for the West Midlands, claimed the MPs were promoting “misinformation”.
“I have personally spoken to the vaccinations minister Nadhim Zahawi who has reassured me that the new AstraZeneca vaccine will be arriving in the city tomorrow,” he tweeted.
Additional reporting by Helen Warrell and Anna Gross in London