The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine will be the largest scale immunisation programme in the country’s history, an NHS boss has said ahead of the first jabs taking place this week.
Vaccinations will be administered at dozens of hospital hubs from Tuesday – with people aged 80 and over, care home workers and NHS workers who are at higher risk the first to receive the jab.
There is still no guaranteed date for when care home residents will be vaccinated despite them being at the top of the priority list, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying there are “significant challenges” to overcome.
Logistical issues mean there are difficulties in getting the jab to residents, as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used.
Images from Public Health England (PHE), taken at a secure location, show specialist Covid-19 vaccine freezers lined up.
A picture taken of the interior of one of the freezers shows stacks of trays which will hold the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses.
PHE said it has secured 58 specialised Twin Guard ultra-low temperature freezers which provide sufficient storage for approximately five million doses of potential Covid-19 vaccines which require ultra-low temperature storage.
The fridges, which are not portable, each hold around 86,000 doses.
This afternoon I was advised to self-isolate after someone who works in my office tested positive for coronavirus. I’m pleased to say my colleague is feeling ok.
I'm not showing any symptoms. But will now be working from home.
Keep safe and follow the public health advice.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) December 5, 2020
The distribution of vaccine across the UK is being undertaken by Public Health England and the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through systems specially adapted from those used for the national immunisation programmes.
NHS England said NHS staff were working through the weekend to prepare for the launch of the programme.
There are 50 hubs in the first wave in England, with more hospitals starting to vaccinate over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday.
“The first tranche of vaccine deliveries will be landing at hospitals by Monday in readiness.
“The NHS has a strong record of delivering large scale vaccination programmes – from the flu jab, HPV vaccine and lifesaving MMR jabs – hardworking staff will once again rise to the challenge to protect the most vulnerable people from this awful disease.”
Mr Hancock said: “We are doing everything we can to make sure we can overcome significant challenges to vaccinate care home residents as soon as possible too.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hancock said he “can’t wait” to scrap the three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions, and for the country to “get back to living by mutual respect and personal responsibility, not laws set in Parliament”.
Asked if the start of administering the vaccine this week could bring about a sooner end to the restrictions in the first three months of 2021, he said: “Yes it will.”
Mr Hancock, who is reportedly referring to Tuesday as “V-Day”, told the newspaper: “There’s no doubt that having the vaccine early… will bring forward the moment when we can get rid of these blasted restrictions but until then we have got to follow them.”
When asked about reports that the Queen, 94, and Duke of Edinburgh, 99, would have the jab within weeks and make it public, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “Medical decisions are personal and this is not something we will comment on.”
Elsewhere, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is self-isolating after a member of his private office staff tested positive for coronavirus.
He said he is not showing any symptoms, but will be working from home.
Meanwhile, a survey has suggested that the majority of the British public does not trust the Government to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
Research found that 57% of people said they do not trust the UK Government to control the spread of Covid-19 – the first time since April that distrust has become the majority view in the country, according to a series of studies.
The finding is based on research by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori involving 2,244 interviews with UK residents aged 16-75 carried out online between November 20 and 24.
A Government spokeswoman said the Government has been “working day and night to battle against coronavirus, taking the right steps at the right time to deliver a strategy to protect our NHS and save lives and livelihoods”.
A further 397 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK as of Saturday, while there were another 15,539 cases.