Problems with the coronavirus vaccine rollout to GPs were laid bare as a surgery visited by the Health Secretary to promote the initiative had yet to receive supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca product.
Matt Hancock said the “rate-limiting” factor in efforts to get people vaccinated is supply from the manufacturers.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to distribute than the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which was the first to be approved.
Mr Hancock said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is now being supplied to GP practices across the country, as he visited the Bloomsbury Surgery in central London.
It was confirmed on Thursday evening that the surgery he visited took delivery of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in the afternoon.
Standing in front of Dr Ammara Hughes’s surgery, the Health Secretary said: “It’s great news this morning that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is from right now being rolled out to GP surgeries across the country.
“For the first three days with the Oxford vaccine, we did it in hospitals to check that it was working well and it’s working well so now we can make sure that it gets to all those GP surgeries that like this one can do all the vaccinations that are needed.
“The rate-limiting step is the supply of vaccine. We’re working with the companies – both Pfizer and AstraZeneca – to increase the supply.”
The new Oxford AstraZeneca #CovidVaccine is being rolled out to GP-led services today, making it easier to protect care home residents and other vulnerable people against Covid-19.
— NHS England and NHS Improvement (@NHSEngland) January 7, 2021
Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer have said they are on track to deliver vaccines as agreed with the Government.
The rapid expansion of the vaccination programme is key to the Government’s efforts to tackle coronavirus and lift England’s national lockdown.
Dr Hughes said Mr Hancock was “quite surprised actually to learn that we don’t know when all of our deliveries are coming, they’re very ad hoc”.
The surgery has been administering the Pfizer vaccine since the middle of December and has so far received three deliveries of that jab.
Dr Hughes said: “So we’ve continued to vaccinate with Pfizer in the surgery, and what we’re hoping to do with the AstraZeneca when it arrives is to go out to the most clinically vulnerable and housebound. So that’s what we’ll be doing.
“We won’t start vaccinating within the surgery with our AstraZeneca doses until we’ve finished our Pfizer vaccines.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Hancock’s visit to the surgery was like something from political comedy The Thick Of It, but added: “Sadly it’s no laughing matter.”
He tweeted: “This should be a clear reminder to ministers to move and heaven (sic) to get vaccination widely rolled out ASAP. We’re in a race against time and we need to start with 2 million jabs a week urgently.”