Ambitious hopes of getting 2million Britons vaccinated against Covid each week are already hanging in the balance, threatening No10’s bold aim of ending the constant cycle of lockdowns by Easter.
A MailOnline analysis reveals Britons could be waiting until December 2022 for more than 30million over 50s and the most vulnerable just to get their first dose, should the NHS continue to roll out only 300,000 a week.
But even if health chiefs manage to ramp up injections to a million a week, figures show it could still take until Autumn next year for the most at risk members of society to get the jab.
The Army-backed operation is the biggest inoculation drive in British history, with health bosses promising thousands of volunteers will be used to get the shots to the most vulnerable members of society.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said today the military ‘stands ready’ to deliver as many as 100,00 doses a day – or 700,000 a week – should it be called upon by the NHS.
And Tesco has offered to hand over its network of refrigerated lorries and warehouses to turbo-charge the roll out, after one of its suppliers said many used for supplying pubs and restaurants are sitting idle because hospitality businesses have been forced to pull down the shutters by mounting restrictions.
But GPs today complained the ‘jabbing workforce’ was yet to materialise, with doctors in charge of the programme demanding more staff to help the UK reach the end of the tunnel and vaccinate millions.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday promised Britain would deliver the jabs as soon as it gets them, with the boss of AstraZeneca – whose coronavirus vaccine was given the green light yesterday – insisted they could deliver 2million doses a week by mid-January. Officials will begin to give out the first 500,000 doses on Monday.
But supply issues have already hit the grand plans, after a shortage of a vital ingredient in October led to manufacturing delays of the Pfizer jab – meaning the 4million promised will not be delivered before the new year.
And the regulator’s decision to extend the time between doses to 12 weeks yesterday left hundreds of GP surgeries across the country cancelling and re-booking hundreds of thousands of second dose appointments.
Hundreds of pensioners were left shivering in the cold for more than an hour outside a surgery in Harlow, Essex, yesterday after turning up for their Covid-19 jab only to find several slots had been double-booked.
Just 2,000 people on the Isles of Scilly are left in Tier 1 – with everyone else in England now under the highest Tier 3 and 4 lockdowns from midnight
London doctor is ‘taken aback’ by number of young people in hospitals with Covid
A junior doctor has described being ‘taken aback’ by the number of young patients without pre-existing conditions now being treated in hospitals for coronavirus.
Dr Yousef Eltuhamy, who works in an intensive care unit at a hospital in London, said he was surprised to see an influx of people who were ‘fit and well’ being admitted to hospital with the virus.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday he said: ‘It’s actually really surprising. I didn’t expect to see so many young people in their 40s and their 50s, patients who don’t have any prior medical history at all, people who are fit and well.
‘Having had coronavirus myself back in May and being unwell with it, even though I’ve got no medical problem, I really don’t take this lightly. I don’t think anyone should take this virus lightly – young or old.’
Dr Eltuhamy described how the year had been ‘really difficult’ for staff on the frontline and said NHS workers were being ‘stretched really thin’ following an increase in admissions.
He told the programme: ‘Honestly it’s been really difficult. Not just for me but all of the colleagues I’ve spoken to across the NHS. It’s been really tough.
‘Every time I start my shift, I walk into my intensive care unit and I’m just greeted with a sight that takes me aback every time.
‘Row on row of patients extremely unwell, all with the same awful virus, all severely critically unwell and looking to me and my colleagues to help them get better.’
It could take more than a hundred weeks just to get the first dose of the vaccine into the arms of everyone over 50, analysis shows, if health bosses fail to energise the roll out.
Ramping up the number of doses given to one million a day would see the most vulnerable vaccinated by 8 August 8 next year.
And reaching two million – which top scientists say is needed to dodge a ‘catastrophe’ in 2021 – would not see all the most at risk getting the jab until April 22.
It suggests there is at least four-month long thicket of restrictions to get through before ministers can start to consider lifting draconian restrictions and curbs on Briton’s daily lives.
Official figures show there are around 6.5million people in the top priority group – those over 80, working in the NHS, and in care homes.
There are estimated to be a further 24.1million aged between 50 and 75, and 1.1million aged between 18 to 64 who are considered to be most at risk from the virus.
The NHS delivered 520,000 vaccines over the 13 days to December 20 so far, a rate of about 300,000 a day.
Mr Wallace said today the army stands ready to crank up the roll out after authorising 130 military planners to start working with the health service to get the vital jab into more Britons faster.
‘I’ve also got plans for up to 250 teams of mobile medically-trained personnel who could go out and administer the vaccine around the country – that would be over 100,000 a day they could potentially deliver if that is requested by the NHS,’ he told Times Radio.
Responding to a question on whether the ramping up was necessary, he added: ‘It may be that the NHS doesn’t require our support to increase that delivery. They have been out recruiting volunteers and people who can deliver the injections. I think what we will say and this is right across the board of the Government response – a bit like the enforcement issues – we stand ready to do that but it is of course correct in our constitution that the civilian authorities make the request.’
Yet GPs today warned they needed a ‘larger workforce’ to turbo-charge the vaccine roll out to two million shots a week.
The chairman of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Martin Marshall, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘So far, the number of vaccinations given have been possible within the current workforce, so in general practice, GPs, practice nurses and pharmacists are coming out for clinical work for a day or two days, delivering a vaccine and then go back into work.
‘When we get into the kind of mass vaccination territory, obviously supplies permitting, we will need a larger workforce. And what we’re saying, as a college, is probably the most important workforce is the retirees or returners.’
He added: ‘I don’t think we’re going to go from where we are now,m with 700,000-800,000 people being vaccinated, to two million people being vaccinated per week, I think that’s going to take longer than we suspect.’
His words came amid mounting concern the NHS has failed to utilise the ground-swell of support for the organisation, after many retired doctors said they are still yet to be tasked with work despite hurriedly signing up to assist the health service in March during the first wave of the pandemic.
Dr Brian Cooper, 73, who used to work at Birmingham City Hospital, told MailOnline none of his former colleagues who answered the NHS’ cry for aid at the start of the pandemic have been brought back to the wards.
‘I don’t know of anybody who has gone back,’ he said.
After he was signed back up to the NHS in April Dr Cooper, who is a gastro-enetorolgist with expertise in identifying cancers in the stomach and bowel, was asked to do a contact tracing job where no qualifications were required. ‘I responded saying it wasn’t a good use of my time,’ he said.
Dr Cooper then didn’t hear from health bosses for seven months until November, when the NHS organised a Zoom meeting promising they would get in touch in the next two weeks. He is still yet to be asked to do shifts.
HAVING THE VACCINE DOESN’T MEAN PENSIONERS CAN ACT WITH ‘WILD ABANDON AND GO OFF TO THE BINGO HALLS’ SAYS JVT
Having one of the new coronavirus vaccines does not mean Britons, including pensioners, can act with ‘wild abandon and go off to the bingo halls’, the Deputy chief medical officer has said.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam was asked at Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference whether people who have had two doses of a vaccine would still have to follow strict rules such as not seeing their families.
The scientist defined the question as whether ‘it’s OK to behave with wild abandon and go off to the bingo halls and so forth’.
He said a lot was still unknown about whether jabs stopped people passing the disease to others and urged people to be ‘patient’.
The official told reporters that the ‘magic phrase’ was ‘transmission’ and said scientists would know within a couple of months how effective the vaccines are at reducing the chances of ‘severe illness’ from Covid.
His comments yesterday came after regulator the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency on Wednesday approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and figures showed around 280,000 people a day are currently being given the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
Professor Van-Tam told reporters: ‘The magic phrase is transmission, I think we can be confident and we will know quite quickly within a matter of a couple of months the impact of these vaccines on reducing severe illness in the population, and when we know that we’ll be able to say – I hope we’ll be able to say – when you’re fully vaccinated, your chances of severe illness from Covid are very markedly reduced.
‘Right now we can’t say that is synonymous with not being able to pass the virus on to others.’
He went on: ‘We don’t know if the vaccines will reduce transmission yet.’
He later added: ‘I can’t give you the assurance that you won’t still pose a hazard to others through transmitting the virus.’
‘My sister-in-law is a retired eye surgeon for London. She was asked to go work in the new nightingale in London but that never really got going as you know. She pointed out as well “I’m an eye surgeon”,’ he said.
‘I know a GP in the East of England too who tried to help with vaccinations and was told “well, would you like to help with sorting the car park out in the surgery.”’
‘My beef is that the Government have had a tremendous response from doctors and nurses who are willing to go back and help, but there’s no evidence that they’ve been using any more than a handful of such people.
‘There seems to be an inability in the NHS to ease its red tape regulation to facilitate the use of doctors and nurses who are retired.
‘Many of us are frustrated as we have skills to continue delivering non-Covid care, a lot of us are in our late 60s and early 70s.
‘We can do outpatient clinics, we can do referrals on patients with suspected cancer cases. That would release younger doctors to rally around dealing with acute admissions, or we could be vaccinated and go to the front line.
‘Colleagues would be only too pleased to help in any way they can.’
Tesco’s subsidiary Best Food Logistics has also offered its fleet of refrigerated vans and warehouses for the national effort, a spokesman for the supermarket confirmed to MailOnline.
The jab needs to be stored at the same temperature as a household fridge, unlike Pfizer’s which scientists say must be kept at -70C (-94F), making it much easier to distribute nationwide.
Best – which is owned by a division of Tesco – has spare capacity because it also supplies hundreds of pubs and restaurants which have been closed due to the pandemic.
Professor Richard Wilding, an expert in supply chain logistics at Cranfield School of Management, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The chilled food supply chain had conversations months ago about helping out with vaccine distribution in anticipation of approval of this vaccine.
‘I’m not sure if the NHS has the existing capacity to handle moving 100million doses very quickly. I would expect to see logistics experts from the military who can cut through the politics brought in to help, and also commercial operators which would allow distribution to be ramped up very quickly.
‘I believe, working together, they can get the vaccine out to everyone who needs it within a few months.’
But supply issues look set to set Britain’s roll out to spluttering, after Mr Hancock revealed only 530,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine will have arrived by Monday – despite an order for more than 100million doses and becoming the first country in the world to give it the green light.
Shortages of a vital ingredient for Pfizer’s jab in October have also set back its schedules, meaning it is feared officials will not meet the promised delivery target of 5million by the end of the year.
Officials close to the matter told the Financial Times there was disruption to the supply of lipid nanoparticles – bubbles of fat – which are used to deliver the genetic code of the virus’s spike protein.
Andrey Zarur, chief executive of GreenLight BioSciences, a US company that works with mRNA used in the vaccine, told the publication that the availability of this product is ‘fairly restricted’ in Europe.