Downing Street announced that the Stratford-on-Avon MP, who has served in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) since July 2019, would take on the role until at least next summer.
He will temporarily relinquish responsibility for most areas of his brief, but under the interim arrangement will serve as a joint minister between Beis and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Zahawi spoke out against the government’s decision to place his constituency in tier 3 just days ago, saying he was “hugely disappointed” by the announcement.
Reports on Friday from The Guardian suggested that hospitals could receive the first deliveries of a vaccine created by Pfizer/BioNTech between December 7 and December 9 – little more than a week after Zahawi’s appointment.
His appointment follows calls from Labour for the government to appoint a minister to oversee the vaccine rollout, who would provide accountability and avoid repeating mistakes made over PPE procurement and Test and Trace.
The UK has placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine – enough to vaccinate most of the population – with rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
It also has orders for 40 million doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been shown to be 95% effective, and five million doses from US firm Moderna which trials suggest is 95% effective.
The rapid rollout of a successful vaccine will pose an enormous challenge for the government, one which Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned could be a “mammoth logistical operation”.
Rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may pose the greatest challenge as it needs to be stored at minus 70C – bringing potential difficulties with transport and storage.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Only days ago Labour called for a vaccines minister to oversee the huge logistical challenge of widespread vaccination.
“We now need a mass public health campaign urging uptake of the vaccine, alongside ensuring the resources are in place for GPs and other health professionals to rapidly roll this out as soon as possible.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.