Tory MPs accused Matt Hancock of playing down the Government’s vaccination ambitions yesterday.
The Health Secretary described the prospect of giving the jab to the most vulnerable by mid-February as a ‘best-case scenario’.
Many of his parliamentary colleagues were not reassured by his comments to them over Zoom yesterday morning.
One MP who referred to the call as ‘Hancock’s half-hour’ said: ‘He emphasised that the prospect of the vulnerable being vaccinated by mid-February was a best-case scenario.
‘It was heavily caveated. He set out plenty of reasons why it might not happen by then.
‘He left himself plenty of wriggle room. It was very much an aspiration and there were no guarantees. I fear that they have not got the vaccine in sufficient quantities.
Pictured: Health Secretary Matt Hancock lead Downing Street on Tuesday after Boris Johnson set out further measures as part of a new lockdown in England. In a zoom call on Tuesday, Hancock failed to reassure fellow MPs of the country’s vaccine programme
He said two million doses of the Oxford vaccine would arrive this week for use next week. They should have been stockpiling. The rollout needs to happen as fast as possible. It’s the only chance we’ve got.’
A Department for Health source said: ‘As the Health Secretary said on the call, our goal is to have offered priority groups one to four their first dose by the middle of February. That is an ambitious goal but achievable.’
Yesterday, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it was ‘realistic but not easy’ to keep to the vaccine timetable.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as Jennifer Dumasi receives a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London
‘In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, as I think is widely reported, it’s more difficult to handle because of the complicated cold chain model,’ he said.
‘We also, with both vaccines, wanted to be very careful in the first two or three days that we went a little bit slowly just in case there were some initial unexpected problems.’
Mr Johnson has said that 1.3 million people in the UK – including 1.1 million in England – have now had the jab. The figures includes 650,000 over-80s – or 23 per cent of that group.
‘That means nearly one-in-four of the most vulnerable groups will have in two to three weeks a significant degree of immunity,’ the PM said.
But Tory MP David Davis said: ‘There’s not a hope in hell they’ll achieve this by mid-February. March is optimistic. I suspect it will be sometime in April. We need more vaccines to be rolled out.
‘Anyone who’s run a business would foresee the bottlenecks and issues with production.’
Glass vial shortage and delays in approval – is this why the Covid-19 vaccine drive is being held up?
By Kate Pickles, Health Correspondent for The Daily Mail
Britain has vaccinated 1.3million people in just under a month… but the target is two million a week.
That’s the rate needed to protect the four most vulnerable groups by February 15 – including everyone over 70.
Boris Johnson has blamed regulators for the sluggish start, warning that their strict protocols have limited how quickly the vaccine programme can be accelerated.
Use London Nightingale? What an ExCellent idea!
London’s Nightingale hospital is to double up as a mass vaccination hub, providing jabs seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.
Work continued last night at the ExCel, Europe’s biggest conference centre. With cases soaring in the capital, the Docklands site has already been ‘reactivated’ to ensure it can relieve pressure on the NHS if necessary.
Epsom racecourse is among several other landmarks set to offer jabs as Britain’s vaccination programme gathers pace.
Vaccination drive: Moving barriers at the ExCel Centre
Groundwork: Tents on the west side of the Docklands site
The Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, had promised in May that 30million doses of the vaccine from Oxford and AstraZeneca would be ready by September. Now, four months on from that deadline, our stocks are still falling short of the target two million a week.
The Prime Minister said of the inoculation drive: ‘The rate limiting the factor at the moment is making sure that we can get enough vaccine where we want it fast enough.
One of the problems as you know is that the AstraZeneca vaccine needs to be properly batch-tested, properly approved before it can be put into people’s arms and this is just a process that takes time to do… but we will be ratcheting it up over the next days and weeks ahead.’
Other serious difficulties include worldwide demand for glass vials. In addition, those hoping to join an army of volunteers to boost the national effort have been tangled up in reams of red tape.
Ministers insist that the NHS has the capacity to deliver two million doses a week – once it receives supplies from manufacturers which have been checked by regulators. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) insists it is capable of batch testing – but has been waiting to receive more doses from manufacturers.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty told yesterday’s Downing Street press conference that the six-week target was ‘realistic but not easy’. So, as Britain embarks upon the biggest vaccination drive in its history, what are the main hurdles?
Is batch testing too slow?
Each batch must be tested for quality by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), part of the MHRA. The process can take up to 20 days.
A sample from each vaccine batch – which can contain hundreds of thousands of doses – is biologically tested for quality and safety.
Manufacturers must also carry out their own tests on each batch before submitting results as evidence to the NIBSC. Delays in providing these details – or any failure to meet standards – can slow the whole process down.
Only once both sets of tests have been completed – and the manufacturer’s results deemed acceptable – is a batch released by regulators for use by the NHS.
More doses are now being produced, which increases the workload for laboratories handling quality control. An MHRA spokesperson said: ‘We are working closely with the [Oxford vaccine] manufacturer, AstraZeneca, to ensure that batches of the vaccine are released as quickly as possible.
‘NIBSC has scaled-up its capacity to ensure that multiple batches can be tested simultaneously, and that this can be done as quickly as possible, without compromising quality and safety.’
Some observers have pointed out that the MHRA managed to speed up the process which saw Covid vaccines cleared for use. Critics might wonder why the same can’t be done at this stage, too.
People queue outside a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Guy’s hopsital in London on Tuesday
Are there enough vials?
Drugs firms warned about a potential shortage of vials as far back as May, given the massive worldwide demand for vaccines.
The tubes are made from borosilicate glass, which keeps vaccines in the requisite stable state during storage and transportation. The glass is chemically inert, meaning there is no interaction between the container and the liquid inside it. This is crucial, as any chemical interference could affect the vaccine. Only a handful of companies make the vials, with Schott in Germany one of the leading producers.
Industry insiders have suggested that the UK needs to ramp up production itself to stop its reliance on overseas companies. Dave Dalton, chief executive of the trade body British Glass, said the supply chain ‘needs to be strengthened and improved’, adding that the supply of medical glass and vials was something that the industry had raised itself – and is ready to help sort out.
Advanced nurse practitioner Justine Williams (left) prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to 82-year-old James Shaw, the first person in Scotland to receive the vaccination
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, suggested issues with so-called ‘fill and finish’ materials, including glass vials, could hinder the vaccine’s rollout. ‘The only thing that is going to slow us down is batches of vaccines becoming available,’ he said during a Downing Street briefing. ‘Many of you know already that it’s not just about vaccine manufacture. It’s about fill and finish, which is a critically short resource across the globe.’ The Department of Health denies there are any vial shortages.
The UK has manufactured around 15million doses of the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine so far, with plants in Germany and the Netherlands providing more of the early batches. However, only four million doses have been through the fill and finish process – and are still awaiting MHRA clearance.
Do we have enough people to give jabs?
Retired doctors have complained that red tape has stopped them from returning to the frontline to deliver Covid vaccines.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock vowed to tackle the problem, with some would-be volunteers asked for 21 documents proving they are trained in areas such as counter- terrorism and racial equality.
Practice Sister Tina Sutton (left) administers a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to Derek Davies Games at the Pontcae Medical Practice in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales
NHS England says it has ‘tens of thousands’ of vaccinators ready to be called upon when more doses are ready to be administered. The army includes healthcare workers such as physiotherapists, nurse practitioners and paramedics who were given the green light to administer jabs after a rule change this summer.
An NHS spokesman said there were ‘thousands more’ in training, but added that the Health Service was confident it has enough people to staff the vaccination programme as it expands. Medics from the Armed Forces are also set to be deployed.
Are checks too long?
BUREAUCRACY has been blamed for slowing down the actual act of vaccination, too, with patients facing lengthy quizzes about their medical history.
Some say they underwent a 15-minute medical questionnaire over the phone before being asked for many of the same details when they arrived for their jab.
Once vaccinated, patients should be monitored for 15 minutes to ensure they have no adverse reactions – meaning the whole process can take around 45 minutes. Doctors have suggested that this should be streamlined, as it severely limits how many vaccines can be delivered at any given site in one day.
What about the manufacturers?
Pharmaceutical companies have hit back at any suggestion that they are to blame for delays.
Pfizer and BioNTech – producers of the first vaccine approved by the MHRA – said they have now sent ‘millions’ of doses to the UK, with up to 40million expected in the coming months.
AstraZeneca has confirmed it expects to be able to supply two million doses of the Oxford vaccine to the NHS every week by the second half of this month, with at least 20million due by the end of March. The jab has only been available at hospital hubs so far – but GP surgeries will join the rollout tomorrow.
Boris Johnson promises daily updates on Britain’s Covid vaccine drive as NHS drafts High Street giants Superdrug and Boots to deliver jabs in stores – but is Prime Minister over-promising again?
- The Prime Minister pledged to keep the public in the loop about the mass Covid immunisation programme
- Three Morrisons car parks and three Boots stores converting into temporary vaccine hubs from next Monday
- Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to move jabs, while BrewDog has volunteered its closed pubs
- Number 10 has pledged to vaccinate around 13million of the most vulnerable Britons by middle of next month
Which high street chains have offered to help and which ones have been approved?
Several high street chains are in talks with the Government about helping with the vaccine roll out.
But so far only Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons have been approved to start dishing out doses.
Boots – three sites starting next week, with ‘more to come’.
Superdrug – five sites starting next week, with ‘tens more’ to be approved.
Morrisons – Three car parks converted into drive-through vaccine clinics from Monday, with more on standby if needed.
Tesco – offered to use its lorries and warehouses to help with logistics.
Pub chains Brewdog, Young’s, Marston’s and Loungers – offered to use closed pubs as temporary clinics.
Boris Johnson tonight promised to update the nation on Britain’s great Covid vaccination drive every day starting next week, as the NHS called on High Street giants to help drastically ramp up the scheme in hopes of hitting the goal of 2million a week.
Admitting there were still ‘long weeks ahead’ and urging England to persevere with the nation’s third lockdown, the Prime Minister pledged to keep the public in the loop about the mass immunisation programme, which is the only way out of the endless cycle of lockdowns.
Mr Johnson said in a Downing Street press conference that health chiefs would offer daily updates from Monday ‘so that you can see day-by-day and jab-by-jab how much progress we are making’.
His pledge comes after Sir Keir Starmer sent a warning shot over his promise, claiming it will be another example of No10 ‘over-promising and under-delivering’ if it fails. The Labour leader said scaling up the programme — which has so far inoculated 1.3million people in a month — would be a ‘struggle’ and that there was ‘no room for error’.
MailOnline also revealed today that the Government will use Superdrug help vaccinate 13million Britons by mid-February, with stores in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Guildford and Basingstoke just waiting on delivery of doses to start dishing them out from as soon as next week.
Tens more sites are on standby across the UK if needed. Each store will be able to inject 1,000 people every week and will operate from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. Patients will be referred to the clinics through the normal NHS booking service and vaccines will be carried out by trained in-store pharmacists and nurses.
Boots is also turning three of its pharmacies in Halifax, Huddersfield and Gloucester into vaccine clinics to bolster the programme, with more to come. While Morrisons announced three of its car parks will be converted into drive-through vaccination centres from Monday.
Meanwhile, Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to help move doses quickly around the country and craft brewer BrewDog has claimed it’s in talks with ministers about turning its closed bars into temporary jab hubs. Pub chains are also throwing their weight behind the rollout of the mass vaccination scheme to get life back to normal by spring, with firms such as Young’s, Marston’s and Loungers offering their venues as potential sites.
It comes as England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said scaling up the vaccination programme was ‘realistic but not easy’. He added: ‘The NHS is going to have to use multiple channels to get this out but they are very determined to do this, but that does not make it easy.’
In the same briefing that Mr Johnson revealed that the spread of the mutant version of the disease made lockdown impossible to avoid, Professor Whitty also delivered a grim message that ‘some’ restrictions could still be needed next winter, as the virus was likely to be in regular circulation like flu.
Admitting there were still ‘long weeks ahead’ and urging England to persevere with the nation’s third lockdown, the Prime Minister pledged to keep the public in the loop about the mass immunisation programme
Superdrug and Boots are poised to start dishing out thousands of jabs next week, while car parks at supermarket Morrisons will be converted to drive-through vaccination centres from Monday. Meanwhile, Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to help move doses quickly around the country and craft brewer BrewDog has claimed it’s in talks with ministers about turning its closed bars into temporary jab hubs. Pub chains are also throwing their weight behind the rollout of the mass vaccination scheme to get life back to normal by spring, with firms such as Young’s, Marston’s and Loungers offering their venues as potential sites
World leader: Israel has already given a first dose to nearly 1.4million of its 8.7million population, and plans to have a fifth of its people fully vaccinated by the end of January. The rapid rollout contrasts with the delays that have hampered the process in Europe and the US
If, If, If, If… how likely is it that No10 will vaccinate 13million Britons by mid-February?
Boris Johnson last night vowed to give one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 13.2million care home residents, over-70s, frontline health workers and Britons classified as ‘vulnerable’ by mid-February.
It is the first time that the government outlined a target number of vaccinations, amid fears No10 is delivering doses too slowly to lift restrictions by Easter, which the Prime Minister suggested would be possible.
But the PM included a number of caveats in his target and said it would be dependent on everything going in the government’s favour.
His comments came after experts warned that Britain may not be free of coronavirus restrictions until next winter, unless the NHS hits its ambitious target of vaccinating 2million people every week.
There are still huge questions about whether the NHS will be able to hit 2million jabs a week target, which scientists say Britain needs to get to ‘very quickly’ to have any hope of a normal summer.
AstraZeneca bosses have pledged to deliver the milestone figure of doses a week by mid-January. And the NHS has promised it will be able to dish them out as quickly as it gets them.
But there already appears to be cracks forming in the supply chain. Only 530,000 doses of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine will be available for vulnerable people this week, despite officials promising at least 4million just weeks ago.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned that vaccine availability issues will ‘remain the case for several months’ as firms struggle to keep up with global demand.
Discussing the vaccine roll-out in tonight’s press conference, Mr Johnson said the total numbers for the first four JCVI groups are a little higher than the 13 million target figure previously mentioned.
He said: ‘We’re going to do them as fast as we possibly can. We’ve set the target, as you know, by the middle of February. Yes, it is a huge effort, the biggest vaccination programme in the history of this country.’
Mr Johnson added it will require the combined efforts of the NHS and the Armed Services, and that every part of Government is working ‘absolutely flat out’ on the roll-out.
He said the rate-limiting factor is ‘making sure that we can get enough vaccine where we want it fast enough’.
Further details on the number of vaccinations carried out will be given on Thursday and will be released daily from Monday, he said.
He added: ‘What we will be trying to do is to try to break down some of these figures for people so everybody can see which groups are getting the vaccine and how it’s being distributed across the country.’
He said it is something of ‘massive national interest’ as he committed to being ‘as transparent as we can possibly be’.
No10 has pledged to vaccinate around 13million of the most vulnerable Brits — including care home residents and staff, NHS workers and all over-70s — by mid-February, in the hope of then being able to ease the most draconian curbs. The mammoth target would require vaccinating about 2million people a week.
But there are serious doubts about whether the target is achievable, given it has been slow to get off the ground and the NHS will need to juggle running the biggest immunisation programme in British history with battling the greatest crisis it has ever faced as Covid patients continue to pour into hospitals.
Record numbers of staff absences and stringent infection control measures are also making the jobs of frontline health workers more difficult.
The NHS has refused to commit to the two million target because of potential vaccine supply shortages, staffing concerns and other logistical hurdles.
There is also a suggestion that health bosses want to distance themselves from the Government’s arbitrary targets, given that it has failed to hit numerous goals throughout the pandemic, including ramping up daily swabbing capacity and expanding NHS Test and Trace.
If it wants to deliver on the 13million promise, the NHS will need to move four times quicker than its winter flu jab programme.
Sir Keir Starmer sent a warning shot to Boris Johnson today over the PM’s ambitious goal of vaccinating 13million Brits by mid-February, claiming if it fails it will be yet another example of No10 ‘over-promising and under-deliverin
How Israel has leaped ahead in the Covid vaccine race
Israel has leaped ahead in the global vaccine race by squeezing every last dose out of its vaccine supplies and using its efficient health system to launch a 24/7 immunisation drive with military help – with Benjamin Netanyahu making himself as visible as possible as he bids for re-election in March.
Some 1.4million Israelis have already had a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, with nearly a sixth of the 8.7million population immunised against Covid-19 in less than three weeks.
Nearly 146,000 people received the jab on Monday alone – more than some Western countries including Italy, Spain and Canada have distributed in total – with jabs being given out in sports arenas and military reservists being drafted in to help.
While only Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have been used so far, Israel has also had deals in place with Moderna and AstraZeneca since before any of the jabs were approved.
It has also divided up its vaccine stocks to get them to remote areas, and some of its health workers have even extracted extra doses from the vials they receive.
In addition, Israelis have been promised digital ‘green passports’ allowing them to sidestep certain lockdown rules once they receive both doses.
Health ministry director-general Hezi Levy said that around a fifth of Israel’s population would have had both shots by the end of this month.
‘By the end of January, we shall have inoculated two million residents, most of them elderly,’ he said.
Figures show only 11.68million people eligible for a free flu jab from their GP in England got one last winter, at a rate of 470,000 per week. For comparison, the speed of the entire UK’s current Covid inoculation drive — which relied on just one vaccine until yesterday — stands at 330,000 per week.
In order to vaccinate all 13million Britons in the four most at-risk categories by mid-February, the NHS operation must speed up six-fold to 2million a week. Only 1million doses have been dished out so far, which means roughly 12million still need to get their vaccine in the 41 days between now and February 15.
That is the equivalent of around 290,000 a day. It is crucial people are vaccinated 12 days before measures are relaxed because the vaccines take 12 days to start working. Department of Health statistics dated up until December 27 show 944,539 doses were dished out in the 20 days of it being operational — at a speed of around 47,000 a day.
Top experts told MailOnline there was ‘no evidence’ to suggest the Government was capable of delivering the two million doses per week and suggested the Government was dangling the carrot of vaccines to soften the blow of the newest lockdown, while MPs said the goal was ‘dubious’.
When WILL we escape the recurring Covid nightmare? Top experts give their verdicts
As Britain is plunged into its third national lockdown, many are wondering whether the Covid nightmare will ever end.
Here, we ask some of the country’s foremost scientific experts to consult their crystal balls, and give you their views on how and when we might return to normality…
PULL TOGETHER AND GET A JAB SO SUMMER WILL BE SAVED
Dr Paul McKay, vaccine research scientist at Imperial College department of medicine
Desperate though this latest lockdown announcement is, given the rapidly rising hospitalisation and infection rates, it certainly seems necessary.
But, while the logistics of finding our way out of all this are daunting, I believe it is possible to get Britain back to near normal within six months.
The Government aims to vaccinate two million people every week, beginning with the oldest and most vulnerable. This would rely on exceptional efficiency. But, I believe, it can be done.
So far, around 1,000 sites across the UK have been selected to carry out vaccinations, so they will each have to process 2,000 vaccines a week in order to achieve that target of two million. That’s 400 jabs a day, five days a week… or about one a minute throughout the working day.
It would be impossible for one person to safely manage that. But one every 20 minutes is feasible. So we’ll need 20 people on average giving vaccines at each centre.
And at that rate, the entire population of 66 million Britons could be treated in eight months. It’s ambitious, but not impossible. And here’s a boost: not everyone needs a vaccine immediately.
Current dogma is that the 11.75 million children in the UK, for instance, are the least at risk from this disease, so they will be last in the vaccination queue. The virus is most dangerous in the over-80s, who number around 3.2 million. Add the 420,000 in care homes (there will be some overlap) and the three million people employed in health and social care – and that’s roughly 6.6 million in total. Vaccinating these groups is the top priority. All going well, they should mostly be safe from severe disease from some point in February. Which will hopefully mean that a full-scale lockdown will no longer be required.
Then once all over-65s and people with pre-existing health conditions – about 15 million Brits – are vaccinated, we should be able to return to Tier Two and Three restrictions by March or April, with restaurants and pubs open. And foreign travel may be on the cards too.
But for all restrictions to be safely relaxed, I estimate we need to achieve 70 per cent inoculation. That’s between 45 and 50 million people – which hopefully can be achieved by the end of June. Until then, it will be necessary to continue with social distancing protocols and the wearing of masks. And only when the vaccine has been provided to everyone who requires it should we think about allowing mass gatherings again.
All assumptions on timings of course depend on a super efficient vaccine roll-out, at a scale we’ve never done before. But if we all pull together and get vaccinated when it becomes available to us, the second half of 2021 can be very different to the first.
WHY I FEAR NEXT WINTER WILL STILL BE DIFFICULT
Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia
A month ago I felt very optimistic about the approaching year, with every hope that the rollercoaster cycle of lockdowns and cautious re-openings would soon be over. Sadly, those hopes faded on December 19, when the Prime Minister warned of a new much more infectious variant.
Since then the news has got ever grimmer, leaving me feeling today – following this latest lockdown announcement – that any hopes we harboured of returning to something like normality by spring are nothing short of a pipe dream.
The problem is that we are once more facing too many variables, not in the least in terms of the large question mark which hangs over the efficacy of the newly-minted vaccines at preventing infection. While they are an undoubted scientific triumph, we only know for sure that they reduce the chance of people becoming severely ill, rather than contracting the infection.
As the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan put it: ‘I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on.’
Alas, without reducing the risk of spreading the infection, we will not achieve herd immunity, and unimmunised individuals will remain at risk of becoming ill with the virus.
That, coupled with ongoing uncertainty about the new, more infectious South African variant and its response to the vaccine means that draconian restrictions like the ones announced by Boris Johnson last night are likely to be in place well into spring and beyond. Looking ahead, I fear next winter will be difficult too, with another increase in cases, hospitalisations and deaths, and likely more restrictions.
It will not be as bad as the year we have had, but we are very far from out of the woods and there are too many shifting parameters for me to be overly optimistic.
MASS TESTING WILL SAVE THE FESTIVALS
Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at Edinburgh University
With a strict lockdown, things should start moving in the right direction by the end of January, but there won’t be much impact on the R rate before the middle of February. We may be living with severe restrictions until the end of next month. By early March, we should start to see the vaccine programme having some effect. And if the Government succeeds in vaccinating every care home resident by the end of January, for example, then we should see the impact of that by late February.
I’m optimistic that by May to June, hospital admissions will have declined dramatically. By then, if the vaccine programme goes well, then everyone over 50 and with underlying health conditions should have been vaccinated – this group accounts for 95 per cent of Covid deaths. If we can get the R rate to well below one and are only seeing new cases occasionally, then we could have a summer that is nearer to normal. But mass gatherings like festivals can only go ahead if there is mass testing – people would have to have a negative test within 72 hours of attending. International travel should also improve if we could have airport testing and repeat testing, linked to a proper quarantine system with support for those isolating. But not until there is global rollout of the vaccine will we be able to travel freely between countries again – and that goes beyond 2021.
WE NEED TO IMPROVE TRACK AND TRACE
Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen
Clearly there is still a long, hard journey ahead in the fight against Covid-19. I believe we can only hope to return to some form of normality by next Christmas, and even that distant target depends on a number of factors, especially the success of the planned vaccination programme.
Its achievement relies in part on the capacity of the manufacturers to meet the colossal demand, a task made difficult not only by the pressures on global supply lines but also the requirement that every batch must be approved by the regulatory authorities.
But even if the vaccines are available in sufficient quantities, it will be a vast logistical operation to deliver them into the arms of the public. Then, we must also contend with concerns about the take-up, particularly among young people who are at little risk of serious illness even if they contract Covid and might, therefore, opt out of immunisation.
Nor will vaccines bring an immediate, dramatic reduction in infections. That is because the priority groups who will first be vaccinated – healthcare workers, care home residents, the elderly and vulnerable – are not super spreaders. Indeed many of them are already shielding.
It is only when the vaccines are given to the under-50s that there will be a truly significant impact – and that might take some time.
There are still many unknowns. How long will immunity last for each vaccinated individual, for instance – six months, two years, five years? And what about new mutations and variants imported from abroad? The scale of the problem means that in the coming months, tough interim measures will be needed, including mask-wearing, social distancing, strict controls on international travel and, regrettably, a full lockdown.
But lockdowns only work temporarily. Once lifted, the virus spreads. So this time it must be accompanied by a vast improvement to testing and Track and Trace. That is our only route to safety – and freedom.
There are concerns the programme will be hampered by problems and that the national shutdown could last much longer than ministers have promised. For comparison, the first lockdown in March went on for more than three months, despite Brits being told it would only last several weeks.
Professor Whitty also said tonight that by extending the gap between coronavirus jabs there was an increased ‘theoretical risk’ of an ‘escaped mutant’ of the virus emerging.
‘That is a real worry but quite a small real worry within the system,’ he said.
‘The general view was the size of the increase of the risk is sufficiently small that measured against this ability to double the number of people who actually are vaccinated, the public health arguments are really strongly for doing what we have decided to do.’
He added ‘Clearly, if we had infinite vaccine we might have taken different approaches, but we don’t.
‘At this point in time, for the next three to four months, the number of vaccines we have available is going to constrain our ability to get through the 25 to 30 million people we must do.
‘Whilst this is such a fast-moving virus at this time, our view was very strongly, on the balance of risk, the benefits to the UK for us at this point in the epidemic were in favour of doing this.’
While Sir Patrick Vallance said it is possible the South African coronavirus variant may have some effect on vaccine effectiveness but is unlikely to ‘abolish’ their effect.
The chief scientific adviser told the Downing Street press conference that a possible change in the virus shape in the variant ‘theoretically gives it a bit more risk of not being recognised’ by the immune system.
‘There is nothing yet to suggest that’s the case. This is being looked at very actively,’ he said.
‘It’s worth remembering that when a vaccine is given you don’t just make one antibody against one bit, you make lots of antibodies against lots of different bits, and so it’s unlikely that all of that will be escaped by any mutations. But we don’t know yet.
‘At the moment, you’d say the most likely thing is that this wouldn’t abolish vaccine effect. It may have some overall effect on efficacy but we don’t know.’
Urging No10 to deliver on their vaccine roll-out pledge, Sir Keir told the BBC this morning there was now a ‘race against time’ to scale up the UK’s vaccination programme during lockdown.
The Labour leader has backed Boris’ plans to vaccinate the top four priority groups by mid-February to allow the worst of restrictions to be eased by March, although he said it would be ‘a struggle’.
He added: ‘This is a race against time and we all hope that in that seven-week period this can happen. There’s no room for error from the government here. We can’t have yet more overpromising and under delivering.’
Supermarkets, high-street pharmacies and breweries have all offered to help deliver Britain’s great coronavirus vaccine drive. Three Morrisons car parks will be converted into drive-through Covid vaccination hubs from Monday, with another 47 on standby if ministers need them, according to the supermarket chain’s chief executive.
Boots is turning three of its pharmacies into vaccine sites in Halifax, Huddersfield and Gloucester from next week, and Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to help move doses quickly around the country. Craft brewer BrewDog has also claimed it is in talks with ministers about turning its closed bars into temporary immunisation centres.
Top epidemiologist Professor Gabriel Scally, from the University of Bristol, told MailOnline he was doubtful the Government will be able to live up to its vaccine promises, adding: ‘I haven’t seen enough detail or proof on how they’re going to do this, for me to be confident.’
He added: ‘There is a rosy glow around the vaccination programme but it has to be organised well. I’m concerned about the lack of local NHS organisation, there are no regional or local health authorities to run these programmen.
‘The lack of local organisation is one of the real problems the Government has had all along and it is why ministers took the easy option of giving Test and Trace to Serco and private companies.
‘We musn’t forget yesterday the Government had to go into lockdown because there is a crisis wave of cases heading our way over the next few weeks and that is going to be number one priority.
‘The NHS will be battling two fronts [rolling out the jabs and battling Covid] which is hugely risky. Never in a million years would I plan to do it this way.
‘We’ve known for months and months vaccines were coming, there were over 200 in production and we knew most would need two doses.
‘But we seem to be making up the rules as we go along, all of these issues about the roll out of vaccines, where they will be delivered and who should get them should’ve been worked out and how many doses.
‘It’s a dreadful situation we’re in. It looks as if the Government is making everything up as it goes along, it’s purely in reactive mode with no strategy.
‘If we acted firmer and sooner [with lockdown] we would’ve had the capacity and space in all respects to run a highly efficient, successful vaccine programme.’
It came as Michael Gove today delivered a stark warning that lockdown will only start to be lifted gradually in March – and that timeline depends on the government meeting its highly ambitious targets for vaccination.
The Cabinet Office minister admitted there was no ‘certainty’ that the brutal squeeze imposed by Boris Johnson on England last night will be eased at the end of February as hoped.
The PM set a goal of giving first doses of vaccine to more than 13million vulnerable people over the next seven weeks, with doubts already voiced over whether it is possible.
But Mr Gove cautioned that even in the best case scenario not ‘all’ of the curbs will go, as he braced the weary public for a long haul to combat the fast-spreading new variant of coronavirus.
In a round of interviews, Mr Gove said a review of the situation would happen in the February half-term.
‘We hope we will be able to progressively lift restrictions after that but what I can’t do is predict – nobody can predict – with accuracy exactly what we will be able to relax and when,’ he told Sky News.
‘What we do know is that the more effective our vaccination programme, the more people who are protected in that way, the easier it will be to lift these restrictions.’
The heavy caveats came as Labour swiped that the PM had ‘over-promised’ about the vaccine hopes when made another extraordinary U-turn by plunging the country into a March-style lockdown, saying the NHS risked being overrun within weeks if he failed to act.
Just a day after he urged parents to send their children back, Mr Johnson declared in a sombre address from No10 that primary and secondary schools will be shut from today, with only the vulnerable and offspring of key workers allowed to go in.
Nurseries can stay open. But university students are being told to stay at home and study remotely, while GCSE and A-level exams will not go ahead as planned.
Teenagers might not know for weeks how their exams will be replaced, with Ofsted expected to launch a consultation, although government sources said some ‘contingency’ plans had already been considered.
Under the the new guidance, published overnight, non-essential retail, all hospitality, gyms and swimming pools will be ordered to close – with Rishi Sunak due to lay out another package of support today amid growing fears about the impact on the economy.
Cafes, bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve takeaway – but in a tightening from the draconian measures last spring, they will not be allowed to serve any alcohol. Vulnerable people are being told to shield where possible.
The public will once again only be allowed to leave home for one of five reasons: to go to work if essential, shop for necessities, exercise – allowed with one other person from another household, care for someone, or to seek medical help or flee threat such as domestic violence.
Communal worship can continue with social distancing in place.
Those who break the rules face a £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.
The extraordinary third national squeeze will come into effect in the early hours of Wednesday after the regulations are laid today, but Mr Johnson urged the public to adopt the new rules now. MPs will get a vote on them on Wednesday when Parliament is recalled.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the crackdown was ‘essential’ and his MPs will support them, effectively guaranteeing their approval in the Commons. But he criticised the government for not changing course sooner and expressed serious doubts about the optimism over distributing vaccines.
‘The prime minister said seven weeks – that’s to allow the vaccination programme to be rolled out for 13 to 14million people,’ Sir Keir said.
‘That’s the ambition of the prime minister. I hope he is not over-promising. It’s going to be a struggle and we need to make this work.’
Senior Tory MPs had joined the Opposition in calling for the introduction of another national lockdown. But the idea of hardening the restrictions sparked fury from other Conservatives, who insist the country’s experience of the pandemic shows that lockdowns do not work and are crippling the economy.
There are claims that at least two MPs have now sent letters of no confidence in the PM to Conservative backbench chief Sir Graham Brady – although the numbers are nowhere near the threshold to put his position in doubt.
Britain’s Covid vaccine strategy could increase the risk of yet ANOTHER mutant strain
Britain’s coronavirus vaccination strategy could increase the risk of yet another mutant strain of the virus evolving by giving it more time to mutate.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, admitted at a Downing Street briefing today that extending the time between doses could let the virus evolve.
The Government last week unveiled its controversial policy which will see people given a single dose of a Covid jab without a second one lined up.
Both the vaccines approved so far – one made by Pfizer and the other by Oxford University – rely on two doses to be most effective, with them ideally spaced three weeks apart.
But in a scramble to stop the devastating second wave of Covid-19, Britain has abandoned this rule and decided it will extend the gap to 12 weeks so it can give more people a single dose as soon as possible.
The benefit will be that millions more people end up being vaccinated in the coming weeks. But it’s possible the vaccines won’t work as well in the long run.
Officials switched to this schedule because they want to vaccinate around 13million people by mid-February so that lockdowns can start to gradually be lifted.
And Professor Whitty said this afternoon it may also raise the risk that an ‘escaped mutant’ version of the virus evolves to resist immunity produced by the jabs.
With his hands clasped together and seated behind a desk in Downing Street last night, Mr Johnson made clear there is no chance of them being lifted for at least seven weeks – and possibly longer if the vaccine rollout does not go well.
‘Our hospitals are under more pressure than at any time since the start of the pandemic. It’s clear we need to do more.. while our vaccines are rolled out,’ he said.
He said it would not be ‘possible or fair’ for exams to go ahead this summer as normal.
‘The weeks ahead will be the hardest but I really do believe that we are reaching the end of the struggle,’ he said, pledging that by mid-February the top four categories on the vaccine distribution list will have had their first jabs.
There are 13.2million people in the top four groups on the vaccination list – care home residents and the over-80s, frontline healthcare workers, the over-70s and the clinically vulnerable.
But the Prime Minister admitted that he could only give assurance that the situation will improve assuming that ‘our understanding of the virus does not change again’.
He said: ‘By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
‘That means vaccinating all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
‘If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus.
‘And of course, that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.’
Mr Johnson said he was left with no option after being confronted with catastrophic figures about the burden on the NHS by science chiefs today.
Hospital patients with coronavirus had risen by 40 per cent over a week, and are now higher than at the peak of the first wave.
Martin Kenyon, 91, whose interview went viral after his first vaccine dose has received his second jab
Martin Kenyon, 91, has received his second dose of vaccine
A pensioner whose interview went viral after his first dose of the Covid vaccine is one of few people to have received a second dose.
Martin Kenyon, 91, was one of the first people in the world to receive the vaccine last month and was interviewed on CNN as he left Guy’s Hospital in London.
Mr Kenyon became a viral star when he described getting his first vaccine by simply phoning the hospital and booking a slot.
He told the CNN’s Cyril Vanier: ‘I hope I’m not going to get the bloody bug now (…) there’s no point in dying when I’ve lived this long, is there?’
Mr Kenyon has since told Sky News he has now received his second jab and described the publicity surrounding his first jab as ‘nonsense’.
He said: ‘It’s all rather uninteresting – I feel exactly the same. It’s a good idea for people to have it.
‘It’s sensible. Rather like all the injections I’ve had all the 91 years I’ve lived.
‘I don’t understand the medical or scientific side of it all – but I do what I’m told and trust the experts.’
Mr Kenyon said after receiving his first jab, he was able to spend Christmas with his family and enjoyed reconnecting with his grandchildren.
The 91-year-old’s CNN interview amassed tens of thousands of shares across social media, with fans praising the ‘charming gentleman’ and labelling him a ‘treasure.’
Rishi Sunak today announced another £4.6billion of bailouts for lockdown-stricken businesses as economists warned of the ‘colossal’ hit from the surging pandemic.
The Chancellor declared that venues hammered by Boris Johnson’s dramatic decision will get one-off grants of up to £9,000 to keep them afloat over the next seven weeks.
Some 600,000 premises across the UK are set to receive the cash, while another £594million is being pumped into a ‘discretionary fund’ to support other firms affected.
Mr Sunak also pointedly refused to rule out extending the massive furlough scheme again beyond the end of April, merely saying he would ‘take stock’ at the Budget in March.
However, businesses warned that the package is not enough, amid pressure for VAT and rates relief to be kept in place to stop a wave of bankruptcies.
The latest huge intervention came amid fears that the lockdown will slash GDP by up to 10 per cent in every month it is imposed – although the respected IFS think-tank said this morning that the impact might be lower as businesses have adapted since the first squeeze in March.
It will also raise alarm at the state of the government’s finances, with IFS director Paul Johnson saying the scale of the economic damage was the worst ‘in the whole of history’. Public sector borrowing could hit £400billion this year, with Mr Sunak already having warned of a reckoning later to balance the books.
In his speech to the nation, the Prime Minister said the previous tiers would have been enough to cope with Covid as it was originally, but the new variant – which is 50 per cent to 70 per cent more transmissible – was spreading in a ‘frustrating and alarming’ manner.
‘As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic,’ he said.
Mr Johnson said that in England the number of Covid patients in hospitals has increased by nearly a third in the last week to almost 27,000 – some 40 per cent higher than the first peak in April.
On December 29 ‘more than 80,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK’, the number of deaths is up by 20 per cent over the last week ‘and will sadly rise further’.
‘With most of the country, or maybe under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out,’ he said.
‘In England we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.’
Mr Johnson said parents ‘may reasonably ask why’ decisions on schools were not taken ‘sooner’.
‘The answer is simply that we’ve been doing everything in our power to keep schools open because we know how important each day in education is to children’s life chances,’ he said.
‘And I want to stress that the problem is not that schools are unsafe for children. Children are still very unlikely to be severely affected by even the new variant of Covid.
‘The problem is that schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households.’