The Army will use “battle preparation techniques” to keep up the pace of Covid-19 vaccine rollout across the UK, with hundreds of thousands of doses per day administered by the middle of this month, Boris Johnson has said.
The Prime Minister said almost 1.5 million people have now been vaccinated against the disease and the Government intends to give everyone in care homes a jab by the end of January.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said people had a right to know how quickly jabs could be rolled out and stressed the NHS was ready to administer vaccines as quickly as they could be supplied.
It comes as the vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University is rolled out across GP surgeries in England.
Mr Johnson told the briefing: “We’ve now vaccinated 1.26 million people in England, 113,000 in Scotland, 49,000 in Wales and 46,000 in Northern Ireland.
“So, all together, nearly 1.5 million people across the UK have now received their first dose and within two to three weeks all of them will have a very considerable degree of immunity.”
He said that “if all goes well” then the NHS “should have the capacity to deliver hundreds of thousands of vaccines per day by January 15.”
The Prime Minister admitted there would likely be “difficulties” in the rollout of the vaccine but added: “Let’s be clear, this is a national challenge on a scale like nothing we’ve seen before and it will require an unprecedented national effort.
“Of course, there will be difficulties, appointments will be changed but … the Army is working hand in glove with the NHS and local councils to set up our vaccine network and using battle preparation techniques to help us keep up the pace.”
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said there had been an increase of 10,000 patients with coronavirus since Christmas Day – the equivalent of filling 20 acute hospitals.
He said most of these people will have caught the infection between Christmas and New Year and the number of patients was “increasing very, very rapidly”.
Sir Simon praised the “strong start” the NHS had made to the vaccination programme but said there “was no room for complacency”.
He said the plan for the next 39 days was to expand the supply of vaccines that can be administered, get more places doing the vaccinations and expand partnerships to “get the job done”.
Brigadier Phil Prosser, Commander of Military Support to the Vaccine Delivery Programme, told the briefing his team was “embedded” with the NHS.
He said his “day job” is to deliver combat supplies to UK forces in time of war, adding: “My team are used to complexity and building supply chains at speed in the most arduous and challenging conditions.”
Brigadier Prosser said the mission is to support the NHS in delivering the maximum amount of vaccine to minimise the number of infections and deaths as quickly and as safely as possible.
“The plan has many challenges which are difficult to balance. We need to make sure that every one of you has equal access to the vaccine no matter where you are in England,” he said.