Ministers will finally trial round-the-clock coronavirus vaccinations after bowing to immense pressure to adopt a 24/7 roll-out to drastically speed up the scheme, it was claimed today.
A senior Government source claimed No10 is considering a ‘pilot where vaccinations are offered for longer hours’ to gauge whether there is enough demand to keep jab hubs open through the night.
It could mark another U-turn for the Government, if the trial is successful and rolled out across the country. Boris Johnson claimed this week there was ‘no clamour’ for appointments after 8pm, sparking fury over whether the UK was doing everything it could to speed up the scheme.
There will now be serious doubts about whether ministers are capable of delivering a round-the-clock operation because of issues with supply. This morning it emerged GPs leading the rollout have been forced to pause vaccinations to allow other parts of the country to catch up.
Practices that have already inoculated every patient over the age of 80 and are now looking to dish the jabs out to the over-70s have had their deliveries cancelled because minsters want to avoid a postcode lottery, according to The Telegraph.
Matt Hancock hinted this morning that a lack of supply was behind the decision to delay jabs despite the vaccination programme desperately needing to get up to speed.
Rita Passey receives a Covid-19 vaccine at the NHS vaccine centre at Millennium Point centre in Birmingham on Tuesday
Ken Hughes is also given the injection at the mass-vaccination hub in Birmingham on Tuesday
Mavis, 87, is pushed by her daughter out of the Covid-19 vaccination centre at ExCel London after receiving her jab
Quizzed about the reports, the Health Secretary told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: ‘The rate-limiting step on the rollout is the supply of the vaccine itself.
‘We are now managing to get that supply more than we have done before and it will increase over the next few weeks,’ he said.
‘We have the capacity to get that vaccine out. The challenge is that we need to get the vaccine in.
How the Government’s vaccine plan breaks down
PHASE 1 (FEB 15 TARGET)
CARE HOME RESIDENTS – 300,000
CARE HOME WORKERS – 500,000
AGE 80+ – 3,300,000
HEALTHCARE WORKERS – 2,400,000
SOCIAL CARE WORKERS – 1,400,000
AGE 75-79 – 2,300,000
AGE 70-74 – 3,200,000
CLINICALLY EXTREMELY VULNERABLE (UNDER 70) – 1,200,000
PHASE 2 (SPRING)
AT-RISK UNDER 65 7,300,000
PHASE 3 (AUTUMN)
REST OF ADULT POPULATION 21,000,000
‘What I know is that the supply will increase over the next few weeks and that means the very rapid rate that we are going at at the moment will continue to accelerate over the next couple of weeks.’
Britain’s vaccine drive has started to pick up pace following the approval of the Oxford vaccine but has still only seen 2.43million people immunised against the disease since launching at the beginning of December.
It is far short of the 2million a week needed to deliver on Number 10’s ambitious promise to hit a target of 13.4 million jabs by mid-February and end the most draconian lockdown curbs.
Pressure to adopt a 24/7 scheme peaked yesterday as Nicola Sturgeon today hinted Scotland was considering the tactic.
She said: ‘We will look at anything and everything that allows us to get this vaccination programme done as quickly as possible’.
Ms Sturgeon said supplies of the vaccine were still ‘relatively limited’, and that with the focus currently on getting jabs to care home residents and those aged over 80, these groups did ‘not lend themselves to out-of-hours vaccination’.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Commons that military personnel can ‘do more to assist’, as he suggested that the hold-up was due to a lack of stock and problems in the supply chain.
He added: ‘I could deploy all 100,000 soldiers tomorrow ready to vaccinate but if the stock isn’t there then we’ll have people not… we could employ them better off.
‘We are very, very clear that we can do more to assist, the Prime Minister knows that and the Prime Minister has indicated that we will be called on as the NHS requires it.’
Officials have said the PM read NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens the riot act in a series of ‘tough’ exchanges last week as the Government comes under pressure to halt the cycle of lockdowns.
Downing Street and the NHS said relations had since improved as the No10 now tries to accelerate the roll-out by approving 24/7 vaccine centres.
Tensions between Sir Simon and Mr Johnson had been simmering since before Christmas when the PM was concerned that some non-frontline NHS staff had been vaccinated before people aged 80 and over.
One person briefed on the clash claimed Mr Johnson had invited Brigadier Phil Prosser, who is leading the Army’s vaccine taskforce, to a Downing Street press conference last week to warn Sir Simon that the military would be given a bigger role in the programme unless the roll-out was sped up.
But NHS insiders told the Financial Times that Sir Simon had proposed Brig Prosser’s attendance at the conference and rejected claims of tension with the PM. No10 called reports of tension ‘completely untrue’, adding: ‘It’s a really good relationship.’