The seven big centres will be sited in major cities and will roll out thousands of jabs a day

oris Johnson was under huge pressure to deliver a successful vaccine roll-out today as he promised MPs a “means of escape” from lockdown.

The Prime Minister announced that London’s ExCeL exhibition centre will host one of seven new mega-vaccination venues launched in stadia and halls next week.

The current NHS Nightingale at the Docklands centre will be split, turning half into a vaccine hub capable of giving the jabs to tens of thousands of people each week.

Addressing MPs who have warned that the vaccine effort must be got right first time, Mr Johnson said the roll-out “will finally free us from this wretched virus”. MPs were expected to vote to approve the new lockdown regulations, despite anger among Right-wing Tories that the end date to the lockdown is written into law at March 31 — some five or six weeks later than first suggested in the PM’s address to the nation on Monday.

Mr Johnson told them: “There is a fundamental difference between the regulations before the House today, and the position we have faced at any previous stage, because now we have the vaccines that are the means of our escape.”

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said earlier that the effort to give jabs to more than 13 million people by mid-February will be speeded up. “We need to get on with this,” he admitted. 

Outlining the NHS vaccination plan, Mr Johnson told the Commons that almost 1,000 vaccination centres were up and running across the country, including 595 GP-led sites, with a further 180 opening later this week, and also at 107 hospitals.

The seven big centres will be sited in major cities and will roll out thousands of jabs a day.

Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We launched with hospital hubs and then rolled out into primary care networks, five or six GP surgeries coming together, one will lead the others support, and they are very effective at vaccinating their communities and of course going into the care home sector as well.

“Then we move on to, in a few days’ time, national vaccination centres, these are big sports halls, stadia and so on..

More than 1.3 million have already received the Covid jabs, including a quarter of the over 80s.

However, to achieve more than 13 million shots by mid-February, for the over 70s, frontline health and social care workers, as well as other individuals vulnerable to Covid. would require a huge step-up in delivery of vaccinations.

Mr Zahawi admitted that the target was “stretching” but voiced “confidence” that it would be achieved.

The minister 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, which is why I commend the NHS for the plan that they put in place.

“But I’m confident that with this plan that the NHS have put together we will deliver this.”

After the start of the third national lockdown, Dr Kevin Fong, national clinical adviser to NHS England’s emergency preparedness resilience and response team for Covid-19, warned the country was now entering the “most dangerous four to six weeks of the whole pandemic” as many hospitals struggle to deal with a surge in admissions and cases are continuing to rise.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that alert level five “by definition means that there is a risk in the next 21 days of NHS services being overwhelmed”.

He added: “I think what we’ve got coming up now are the most dangerous four to six weeks of the whole pandemic and we need this last push to get us through, and we need everybody’s help… to help choke off the supply of these cases coming through.

“We need the public to help us, we’re out there to help you. We need you to help us.”

He said “the whole country is busy at the moment – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, we’re running super hot.”

Of comments on social media downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, he said: “I have been a doctor for 22 years, I’m trained in anaesthesia and intensive care.

“I spent my Christmas moving patients around from hospital to hospital trying to find spare beds that we can park them into, and I have been embedded with the Covid-19 response since March.

“So you can believe me that the hospitals are full, or you can believe people who are sitting at a keyboard who’ve never put on a shred of PPE and never seen the inside of an intensive care unit, let alone during Covid-19.”

Meanwhile, the Government has been accused of ignoring an “army” of small pharmacies in the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine.

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

Ms Gidley said that under the Government plans some larger pharmacies were involved, but they had to be able to guarantee they could deliver at least 950 doses per day.

While that was necessary for the Pfizer vaccine – which is more complicated to handle – she said the arrival of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab meant it could be administered by much smaller units.

“We are already used to delivering the flu vaccine. You have got an army of trained vaccinators who are ready, willing and able to play and part,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“With the AstraZeneca vaccine there is no reason why that could not be delivered through community pharmacies.

“There are over 11,000 pharmacies. If each of those does 20-a-day that is 1.3 million-a-week extra vaccines that can be provided, very often to those who are hardest to reach.

Mr Zahawi insisted that independent, as well as larger community pharmacists, would be involved in the vaccination progamme.

He added that as well as getting more vaccine sites, it was also important to ramp up delivery of shots at the 1,000 set to be operating by the end of the week.

Britain is among the frontrunners in the efforts to get citizens vaccinated, with Boris Johnson highlighting that more people in the UK had received the jab than the rest of Europe.

Health sources emphasised that the UK is behind only Israel and Bahrain in terms of vaccinations per head of population.


News – PM vows ‘escape’ from lockdown as he unveils mega-vaccination centres