The first 24-hour vaccination centres will be piloted in London before the end of January, the UK’s vaccines minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi said that by the beginning of February the scheme would be under way in hospitals in the capital and also pledged that 50 large vaccination centres would be open. He said that at present about 140 people a minute were being vaccinated against Covid-19.
Zahawi said that from Monday “in some areas where they’ve done the majority of over-80s, letters are going out to the over-70s and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable”.
But he argued that for the most vulnerable cohort of over-80s, 24-hour centres were not the most important component of the government’s programme.
He told Sky News: “If you just want to chase volume, chase speed, and not accuracy, 24 hours works really well. But if you want to chase both accuracy, protecting the most vulnerable and of course speed, then you want to do what we’re doing, which is primary care networks, hospitals, large vaccination centres, and of course pharmacies last week.”
Due to limited supply, the vaccine “needs to get into the arms of the most vulnerable” first, Zahawi said.
He said vaccine supply “remains challenging” and is the limiting factor in the rollout of coronavirus jabs.
“We now have built a deployment infrastructure that can deploy as much vaccine as it comes through. And so it’s the vaccine supply – which remains lumpy, it remains challenging, you may have read over the weekend probably some of the challenges around Pfizer and of course Oxford/AstraZeneca – but I’m confident we can meet our target mid-Feb, [for] those top four cohorts,” he told BBC News.
Zahawi’s update on progress with the government’s coronavirus vaccination programme comes as letters offering appointments to about 4.6 million people over 70 and 1 million extremely vulnerable people are sent out this week.
He repeated the government’s target, made on Sunday by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, of offering all adults a first dose by September.
And he said that once the most vulnerable cohorts had been vaccinated in phase one, in phase two his “very strong instinct” was to prioritise other groups likely to come into contact with the virus more often than others.
“Those who their work, through their profession, may come into contact with the virus – police men and women, shop workers, teachers, incredibly important because we want to make sure schools reopen fully … should be prioritised,” he said.
Ahead of an Opposition Day debate on a planned cut to a universal credit uplift of £20 a week, Zahawi accused Labour of choosing a “political stunt” with “no real impact”. “I find it extraordinary that … Labour say they will dismantle [universal credit],” he said. “Universal credit has been one of the unsung heroes of this challenge of Covid.”