More than half of population could be vaccinated by late March – Tony Blair

Tony Blair has said lockdown restrictions could ease “significantly in February” while more than half of the population could be vaccinated by late March under a plan set out by the former prime minister.

In a foreword to a new report, Mr Blair said the UK’s vaccination programme against Covid-19 needs to accelerate “dramatically” and said the Government should be working towards vaccinating five million people a week.

He told Good Morning Britain the new variant of coronavirus spreading rapidly “means we’ve got to alter our plans for vaccination”.

In his report, Mr Blair said that by the week after next, AstraZeneca should be able to supply two million vaccines a week, while millions of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are already in the country.

In February, AstraZeneca has the potential to get up to three million vaccines or more per week, he added.

A further vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which is due to report final-stage clinical trial results at the end of this month, will go through UK regulatory approval in early February, with the UK having ordered 30 million doses.

Mr Blair said: “The moment it gets approval, Johnson & Johnson is ready to ship vaccines from European production – so it could be an additional supplier in February.

“In March, it could ramp up further production and have similar output to AstraZeneca.”

He said based on these figures, the Government could be looking at three million doses a week by the end of January, four million a week by the end of February and five million a week by the end of March.

“This would allow us to ease restrictions significantly in February and have a majority of the population vaccinated by the end of the third week of March,” he said.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain, Mr Blair said the UK must “use every single available bit of capacity in order to make sure these vaccines are used”.

This would involve using community pharmacies as vaccinators alongside retired people and occupational health workers, and using pop-up and mobile vaccination clinics.

“We need to be ramping all of this up, and we just need to go on to a completely different footing with it,” he said.

“There’s really no reason why you need a very complicated system to do it. I get a flu jab every year and I get it at my local pharmacy, it’s not complicated.”

Earlier, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said 99% of deaths could be stopped by vaccinating the top nine priority groups laid down by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

When asked how long it would take to give jabs to those groups, Mr Zahawi said: “I’m very hopeful that by the spring we will get through the nine categories.”

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that regulatory approval of batches of the new Oxford vaccine was a bottleneck stopping more jabs being released to hospitals and GP surgeries.

He said a “rate-limiting” factor was the approval process and this would now be “ratcheted up”.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was working quickly while not compromising safety.

An MHRA spokesman said: “We are working closely with the manufacturer, AstraZeneca, to ensure that batches of the vaccine are released as quickly as possible.

“Biological medicines such as vaccines are very complex in nature and independent testing, as done by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, is vital to ensure quality and safety.

“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.”

At the same time as the NIBSC tests batches, vaccine manufacturers conduct their own quality tests.

Manufacturers then send evidence to the NIBSC in the form of a document called a batch-specific lot release protocol.

Meanwhile, the Government has denied reports that a shortage of glass vials for the vaccine is causing any delays.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “There is no shortage of vials for the UK. We have been monitoring the requirements across the supply chain from supplier through to patient for some time.

“There are clear supply chain plans in place for both the supply and onward deployment of all vaccine candidates.

“This includes materials, manufacturing, transport, storage and distribution.”

AstraZeneca and Pfizer have also both reportedly dismissed suggestions they cannot supply the vaccine fast enough.

Oxford Biomedica, the main manufacturer of the “raw” vaccine in the UK for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, has said it is running at full production.

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