NHS must double efforts to vaccinate key workers and vulnerable by Easter

The NHS is set to miss its target of vaccinating all vulnerable people and key workers by Easter, official data suggests.

Katie Gibbons www.thetimes.co.uk 

The health service will need to more than double its efforts, ministers have been told, as figures suggested the government will also fall short of a pledge to vaccinate millions by Christmas.

In all, 137,897 people in Britain received the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine in the first week up to December 15. However, unless the pace increases to about 17,237 jabs per day, fewer than 400,000 would get the first dose of the vaccine by December 25.

Pfizer pledged to deliver five million doses by the end of the year, to inoculate 2.5 million people with two jabs three weeks apart. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, last week said that “several million people” would be vaccinated by Christmas.

Responding to Mr Hancock’s latest Covid-19 statement yesterday, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, questioned how realistic the goals were. “To vaccinate every older person, vulnerable person and key worker by Easter, we’ll need to do something like double that, every day,” he told the Commons.

Last month Boris Johnson suggested that the “vast majority” most vulnerable to coronavirus could be vaccinated by Easter. The programme has been allocated £11.7 billion in funding and 46,000 extra staff, the National Audit Office revealed this week.

Due to the complex logistics of the Pfizer jab, which must be stored at around minus 70C, only 50 major hospitals were able to administer the vaccine in the first week. This is to increase to 70. As of this week 200 GP surgeries and hubs, including at football stadiums, are administering the vaccine.

However, several GPs have complained of deliveries not arriving on time, forcing them to push back hundreds of appointments. Technical problems meant that many GPs had to record data by hand on who had received the vaccine.

These system errors have not been rectified and threaten to cause further delays. A senior health official told Sky News that the IT system, known as Pinnacle, was “failing constantly” and that GPs were “having to record on paper and then transfer”.

A second coronavirus vaccine neared approval for emergency use in the US last night.

The two-injection Moderna vaccine cleared a committee of experts convened by the Food and Drug Administration with six million doses on standby for distribution in the US next week. The FDA is expected to pass it for emergency use today, and the US will then become the first country to use it.