Tony Blair urges UK to step up vaccination programme

Lewis McKenzie, PA Political Reporter
·4-min read

The entire country must be placed under a Covid-19 vaccination programme, according to Tony Blair.

Mr Blair made the call as he urged ministers to change the UK’s strategy completely in tackling the virus.

Speaking on Times Radio, the former prime minister insisted that a goal should be set to increase vaccinations to five million per week.

Tony Blair
The former prime minister was speaking on Times Radio on Sunday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It comes as a new document, ‘A Plan for Vaccine Acceleration’, is published by the Tony Blair Institute

He told Times Radio: “Because of this new variant, we need to change our strategy completely in my view.

“And the paper we published today shows how we can get up to three million, I think we could get up to three million a week by the end of January, provided that the vaccines are available, and they should be.

“Not only Pfizer and AstraZeneca but possibly with the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well coming on stream.

“We should be aiming to get up to three, four, five million a week.

“We need to get the entire country under a vaccination programme very, very fast because right now as a result of this new variant, we’ve got a choice between severe lockdown or vaccination.

“But there isn’t another choice.”

Mr Blair also explained that until vaccination is “done at scale” across the population, then the UK will remain in a severe lockdown.

He said: “If I was the prime minister right now I would be saying to the team in Downing Street, ‘I need you to give me a plan to get this up to five million (vaccinations) a week’.

“Provided we’ve got the vaccine available and we should have them available. I mean AstraZeneca will, not this week or next week but the week after, be able to get up to two million doses a week, that’s just AstraZeneca.

“They could probably do more if they knew that the system was capable of absorbing the amount of vaccines that they would produce.

“And then, as I say, you should get clearance for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the end of January, that’s when they complete their trials and then we should be able to get that on stream as well in February.

“So if we really, really decide to do this, I think we could – and the alternative is we just carry on with this lockdown and you’ve seen the problems we’ve got into over schools but just multiply that right across the country for workplaces, for every type of activity that we do.

“It’s pretty obvious now that until we get vaccination done at scale and not just with elderly people but right through the population, then we’re in a severe lockdown with all the damage that does.”

On the return of primary schools across England, Mr Blair said that unless there is a “step-change” in the vaccination programme, it would be difficult to see how schools would remain open.

Boris Johnson earlier insisted that schools are safe for pupils to return to.

Mr Blair said: “On the one hand, it’s a disaster for school children, particularly the poorest school children if they’re not getting educated.

“But it’s also completely understandable that teachers and parents say, not because they think their children… the risk to children is very, very small, it’s the risk to transmission rates and it’s the risk to teachers and parents, and therefore to those that their parents mix with.

“So for all of those reasons, it just emphasises yet again why it’s so important to get vaccination under way.

“Otherwise you’re going to be day-by-day and week-by-week facing a very, very difficult choice as to whether you do more school closures and therefore deprive more children of educational opportunity or whether you leave the schools open but run the risk that the disease keeps spreading.”

Mr Blair added: “Unless there’s a step-change of a radical nature in the vaccination programme, it’s very difficult to see how you’re going to keep schools open.”