Tony Blair urges UK to step up vaccination programme

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.

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."

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Tony Blair in recent years
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Tony Blair in recent years
Former prime minister Tony Blair during a speech to mark the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour party, in the Great Hall at King's College, London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, arrives for the funeral of Frank Dobson at St Pancras Church in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair on stage during the Final Say rally at the Mermaid Theatre, London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street arriving for the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London.
File photo dated 02/09/19 of former prime minister Tony Blair, who has said Tory and Labour MPs would both face a "big risk" by fighting a general election on the issue of Brexit.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, during a Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Lord Ashdown at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair gives a speech at the Institute for Government in central London where he will call for Labour to oppose any move by Boris Johnson to hold an emergency general election until Brexit has been resolved.
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks alongside former prime ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown and former leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg during a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of former Cabinet Secretary Lord Heywood at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair with Prime Minister Theresa May as they leave following a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of former Cabinet Secretary Lord Heywood at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair makes a speech on Brexit at the British Academy in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair during the remembrance service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London, on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which marked the end of the First World War.
Lisbon, 07/11/2018 - Web Summit 2018 was held at the Altice Arena in Lisbon from 5 to 8 November. Tony Blair (Filipe Amorim / Global Imagens)
Former prime minister Tony Blair speaking at the launch of the Resolution Foundation's annual Living Standards Audit in central London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair arrives to give a speech on poverty and inequality at the launch of the Resolution Foundation's annual Living Standards Audit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair talking about the Good Friday Agreement in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair in conversation with Professor Anand Menon during the Changing Europe conference on Brexit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking during the Changing Europe conference on Brexit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie walk through Downing Street on their way to the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London.
Tony Blair addresses a conference on Brexit in the Druids Glen Hotel, Wicklow, Ireland.
Tony Blair at a Brexit meeting in Wicklow, Ireland.
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair addressing the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2017. (Photo by Michael Brochstein) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair during his speech on Brexit at an Open Britain event in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair holds a press conference at Admiralty House, London, where responding to the Chilcot report he said: "I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
Former prime minister Tony Blair and wife Cherie arrive at St Paul's Cathedral in London for a national service of thanksgiving to celebrate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.
Former prime ministers Sir John Major (left) and Tony Blair walk across the Peace Bridge in Londonderry following a Remain campaign event at the University of Ulster in Londonderry.
Former prime minister Tony Blair during a Remain campaign event at the University of Ulster in Londonderry.
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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."

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