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Whole country must be placed under vaccine programme, says Tony Blair

Written by on 3 January 2021

Boris Johnson has said “tens of millions” of coronavirus vaccine jabs will be administered in the UK over the next three months – as former prime minister Tony Blair urged the government to step up its immunisation programme.

Mr Johnson said the government hopes to administer up to two million doses a week as it tries to get the country’s COVID-19 epidemic under control.

His comments came ahead of a national roll-out of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine – and amid concerns over possible delays of the second dose and of possible shortages.

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Image:
The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath was among the first to get the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

On Monday, there will be 530,000 doses of the Oxford jab at around 540 GP vaccination sites and 101 hospital sites, the prime minister said.

The UK has a total of 100 million doses on order, with priority given to the over-80s, care home residents and frontline health workers.

However, Mr Blair, whose Institute for Global Change has put out its own “plan for vaccine acceleration”, has said the whole country must be placed under a COVID vaccine programme, with a goal to increase jabs to five million a week.

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The former prime minister said that until vaccination is “done at scale” across the population, the UK will remain in a severe lockdown.

Mr Blair called for a “different type of strategy” from the government, telling Sky News: “We need to mobilise resources on a scale we’ve never seen before in peacetime in this country.”

The Oxford vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperature and experts say it is “much easier” to administer when compared with the jab from Pfizer/BioNTech, which needs cold storage of around -70C.

More than a million people have already been given a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since it was approved early in December.

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Oxford vaccine ready for rollout

Mr Johnson said “there are a few million more Pfizer (vaccines) still to be used,” adding that both vaccines are being rolled out “as fast as we can”.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “We have the prospect of vaccines coming down the track in their tens of millions”. However, he warned it is a “very bumpy period right now” due to rising coronavirus infections and tough restrictions.

Mr Johnson said a mass vaccine programme was the way out of the tiering system.

He said: “What we are doing now is using the tiering system, which is a very tough system… and, alas, probably about to get tougher to keep things under control. But, we will review it.”

And he said it was “absurd” that retired doctors were being asked to go through “pointless bureaucracy” to sign up as vaccine volunteers.

There have been reports of potential volunteers being deterred by additional training and forms about “deradicalisation measures” and “fire drills”.

Under the government’s plans, second vaccine doses will take place within 12 weeks of the first – rather than the 21 days initially planned – in an effort to maximise coverage and expand the number of people getting the first vaccination.

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England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has defended the government’s change in guidance.

He told the Mail on Sunday: “The evidence clearly shows vaccinated individuals get almost complete protection after the first dose. Simply put, every time we vaccinate someone a second time, we are not vaccinating someone else for the first time.

“It means we are missing an opportunity to greatly reduce the chances of the most vulnerable people getting severely ill from COVID-19.”

The UK’s chief medical officers, including England’s Professor Chris Whitty, have warned vaccine supply shortages could last “several months” and have backed the move to delay second doses.

They said: “Currently the main barrier to this is vaccine availability, a global issue, and this will remain the case for several months and, importantly, through the critical winter period. Vaccine shortage is a reality that cannot be wished away.”

Boris Johnson on Andrew Marr. Pic: BBC/Reuters
Image:
Boris Johnson says tens of millions of vaccine jabs will be administered in the next few months. Pic: BBC/Reuters

Last month, Professor Van-Tam said a shortage of “fill and finish” materials needed to produce and package vaccines could slow down the national roll-out.

At a Downing Street news conference, he said: “Many of you know already that it’s not just about vaccine manufacture. It’s about fill and finish, which is a critically short resource across the globe.”

One of the first hospitals to get the Oxford vaccine on Saturday was the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Dr George Findlay, chief medical officer and deputy chief executive at the trust, said: “You only have to look at the statistics over the last 10 months about how many staff have suffered illness, or sadly lost their lives.

“This (vaccine) gives staff the confidence to come to work to be able to look after patients.”