People over 80 should not be worried if they are not called for the Covid-19 vaccine this month as the vast majority will have to wait until the new year to get the jab, a health boss said.
Vaccinations will be administered at dozens of hospital hubs from Tuesday – reportedly dubbed “V-Day” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – with people aged 80 and over, care home workers and NHS workers who are at higher risk at the front of the queue.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said people need to “hang fire” and be assured that they have not been forgotten about, despite not receiving a letter or a phone call about the vaccine.
He told the PA news agency: “I don’t think people should expect anything over the next few days because the reality is, as I said, that for the vast, vast, vast majority of people this will be done in January, February, March.
“And the one thing that we don’t want people to get anxious about or concerned about is ‘Where’s my letter?’ in December.”
He added: “People really shouldn’t worry if they’re over 80 and they haven’t had a letter.
“I’m sure there will be communications over the next few weeks that will tell people how quickly we are getting through the over-80s, and there will be plenty of communications to say, at the right point, if you haven’t had a letter then you should talk to your GP, but we are many weeks away from that.
“So as I said people just need to hang fire and wait for a proactive communication.
“If that hasn’t happened, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you, and we’ll certainly tell you at the point at which you need to start worrying if you haven’t been contacted, but that will be many, many weeks away.”
The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, enough to vaccinate 20 million people, as people need to receive two doses.
There are 800,000 doses in the first tranche, meaning that 400,000 people will be vaccinated initially.
There are challenges to overcome with vaccinating care home residents despite them being at the top of the priority list, but Mr Hopson said this will get going in about a week’s time and will be led by primary care networks.
Logistical issues mean there are difficulties in getting the Pfizer jab to residents, as it 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.
The vaccine boxes containing 975 doses will need to be split so that they can be taken to care homes.
It has been confirmed that care home residents in Scotland will be able to receive the vaccine from December 14.
The distribution of the 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.
Pictures show the arrival of a batch of vaccines at Croydon University Hospital in south London over the weekend, with similar scenes unfolding all around the country.
On arrival in Croydon, the batch of vaccines was unboxed by a pharmacy technician wearing specific protective equipment to ensure he is able to safely handle the delivery at such cold temperatures.
After going through final quality control checks, the batch is placed in a freezer to ensure it can be kept at the right temperature until it is ready to be used.
There are 50 hubs in the first wave of the vaccination programme in England, with more hospitals starting to vaccinate over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.
It is not known when exactly all 50 hubs will receive vaccine doses, as they are starting to administer the jab at different times, but deliveries are expected to happen throughout the week.
The Government said a further 231 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday, bringing the UK total to 61,245.