Is Matt Hancock backing off mid-February vaccine target ALREADY?

Tory MPs accused Matt Hancock of playing down the Government's vaccination ambitions yesterday.

The Health Secretary described the prospect of giving the jab to the most vulnerable by mid-February as a 'best-case scenario'.

Many of his parliamentary colleagues were not reassured by his comments to them over Zoom yesterday morning.

One MP who referred to the call as 'Hancock's half-hour' said: 'He emphasised that the prospect of the vulnerable being vaccinated by mid-February was a best-case scenario. It was heavily caveated. 

'He set out plenty of reasons why it might not happen by then. He left himself plenty of wriggle room. It was very much an aspiration and there were no guarantees. I fear that they have not got the vaccine in sufficient quantities.'

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'He said two million doses of the Oxford vaccine would arrive this week for use next week. They should have been stockpiling. The rollout needs to happen as fast as possible. It's the only chance we've got.'

It comes amid claims from industry leaders that high street pharmacies 'desperately' want to roll out more than a million Oxford vaccine doses a week but have been snubbed by the government.

And leaked documents show Public Health England has decided to not work on Sundays to deliver the Covid-19 vaccines to NHS hospitals, with guidance to NHS Trusts warning that deliveries will not be made on Sundays or after agreed 'cut-off points' every lunchtime, according to reports. 

The news comes as: 

Chris Whitty warns Covid restrictions might be needed next winter if the vaccine drive isn't effective enough  Government graphs show cases of highly-infectious Covid variant are dropping in London and the South East  Lockdown 3 is set to cost Britain £390million a day, fuelling fears of financial double-dip recession  Boris Johnson reveals that one in fifty people now have Covid, as the UK records another 830 deaths  PM says 1.3million have been vaccinated and pledges Britain can get jabs to the vulnerable by mid-February

Pictured: Health Secretary Matt Hancock lead Downing Street on Tuesday after Boris Johnson set out further measures as part of a new lockdown in England. In a zoom call on Tuesday, Hancock failed to reassure fellow MPs of the country's vaccine programme

Pictured: Health Secretary Matt Hancock lead Downing Street on Tuesday after Boris Johnson set out further measures as part of a new lockdown in England. In a zoom call on Tuesday, Hancock failed to reassure fellow MPs of the country's vaccine programme 

Slides presented at the briefing showed that one in 50 people in England are thought to be infected with coronavirus

Slides presented at the briefing showed that one in 50 people in England are thought to be infected with coronavirus 

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Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Services Committee, asked why the NHS has been 'scrabbling around' to find ways to administer the vaccine when his industry has offered their services. 

Ministers have come under pressure to deploy thousands of vaccinators at pharmacies to the national effort in rolling out the inoculations, rather than relying on GPs, nurses and volunteers, but Mr Dukes says his industry has been met with a 'de facto silence' despite telling the NHS they are 'ready, willing and desperate to help', The Telegraph reports. 

He said that there were roughly 11,400 pharmacies across Britain that administered flu jabs each year, with capacity to vaccinate around 1.3 million people a week against Covid-19. 

And leaked documents show Public Health England decided to not work on Sundays to deliver the Covid-19 vaccines to NHS hospitals, reports claim. 

Next-day deliveries should only be expected from Monday to Friday, providing orders are placed before 11.55am, operating procedures issued to NHS Trusts warn. Reports say that if an order is placed on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, it will not arrive until Monday.  

A PHE source told the Telegraph: 'You need a cut-off point or the whole system would fall over. And we agreed the six-day week with the NHS.' 

Interim chief executive of PHE Michael Brodie said: 'We run a seven-day-a-week service and have fulfilled 100 per cent of orders from the NHS on time and in full – with routine next-day deliveries six days a week, as agreed with the NHS and the capability to send orders on Sundays if required.' 

In relation to Matt Hancock's comments about the vaccine, a Department for Health source said: 'As the Health Secretary said on the call, our goal is to have offered priority groups one to four their first dose by the middle of February. That is an ambitious goal but achievable.'

Yesterday, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it was 'realistic but not easy' to keep to the vaccine timetable.

'In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, as I think is widely reported, it's more difficult to handle because of the complicated cold chain model,' he said. 

'We also, with both vaccines, wanted to be very careful in the first two or three days that we went a little bit slowly just in case there were some initial unexpected problems.' 

Mr Johnson has said that 1.3 million people in the UK – including 1.1 million in England – have now had the jab. The figures includes 650,000 over-80s – or 23 per cent of that group.

'That means nearly one-in-four of the most vulnerable groups will have in two to three weeks a significant degree of immunity,' the PM said. 

But Tory MP David Davis said: 'There's not a hope in hell they'll achieve this by mid-February. March is optimistic. I suspect it will be sometime in April. We need more vaccines to be rolled out.

'Anyone who's run a business would foresee the bottlenecks and issues with production.'

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as Jennifer Dumasi receives a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as Jennifer Dumasi receives a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London

Glass vial shortage and delays in approval - is this why the Covid-19 vaccine drive is being held up? 

By Kate Pickles, Health Correspondent for The Daily Mail 

Britain has vaccinated 1.3million people in just under a month... but the target is two million a week.

That's the rate needed to protect the four most vulnerable groups by February 15 – including everyone over 70.

Boris Johnson has blamed regulators for the sluggish start, warning that their strict protocols have limited how quickly the vaccine programme can be accelerated.

Use London Nightingale? What an ExCellent idea!

London's Nightingale hospital is to double up as a mass vaccination hub, providing jabs seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.

Work continued last night at the ExCel, Europe's biggest conference centre. With cases soaring in the capital, the Docklands site has already been 'reactivated' to ensure it can relieve pressure on the NHS if necessary.

Epsom racecourse is among several other landmarks set to offer jabs as Britain's vaccination programme gathers pace.

Vaccination drive: Moving barriers at the ExCel Centre

Vaccination drive: Moving barriers at the ExCel Centre

Groundwork: Tents on the west side of the Docklands site

Groundwork: Tents on the west side of the Docklands site

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The Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, had promised in May that 30million doses of the vaccine from Oxford and AstraZeneca would be ready by September. Now, four months on from that deadline, our stocks are still falling short of the target two million a week.

The Prime Minister said of the inoculation drive: 'The rate limiting the factor at the moment is making sure that we can get enough vaccine where we want it fast enough.

One of the problems as you know is that the AstraZeneca vaccine needs to be properly batch-tested, properly approved before it can be put into people's arms and this is just a process that takes time to do... but we will be ratcheting it up over the next days and weeks ahead.'

Other serious difficulties include worldwide demand for glass vials. In addition, those hoping to join an army of volunteers to boost the national effort have been tangled up in reams of red tape.

Ministers insist that the NHS has the capacity to deliver two million doses a week – once it receives supplies from manufacturers which have been checked by regulators. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) insists it is capable of batch testing – but has been waiting to receive more doses from manufacturers.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty told yesterday's Downing Street press conference that the six-week target was 'realistic but not easy'. So, as Britain embarks upon the biggest vaccination drive in its history, what are the main hurdles?

Is batch testing too slow?

Each batch must be tested for quality by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), part of the MHRA. The process can take up to 20 days.

A sample from each vaccine batch – which can contain hundreds of thousands of doses – is biologically tested for quality and safety.

Manufacturers must also carry out their own tests on each batch before submitting results as evidence to the NIBSC. Delays in providing these details – or any failure to meet standards – can slow the whole process down.

Only once both sets of tests have been completed – and the manufacturer's results deemed acceptable – is a batch released by regulators for use by the NHS.

More doses are now being produced, which increases the workload for laboratories handling quality control. An MHRA spokesperson said: 'We are working closely with the [Oxford vaccine] manufacturer, AstraZeneca, to ensure that batches of the vaccine are released as quickly as possible.

'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.'

Some observers have pointed out that the MHRA managed to speed up the process which saw Covid vaccines cleared for use. Critics might wonder why the same can't be done at this stage, too.

People queue outside a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Guy's hopsital in London on Tuesday

People queue outside a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Guy's hopsital in London on Tuesday

Are there enough vials?

Drugs firms warned about a potential shortage of vials as far back as May, given the massive worldwide demand for vaccines.

The tubes are made from borosilicate glass, which keeps vaccines in the requisite stable state during storage and transportation. The glass is chemically inert, meaning there is no interaction between the container and the liquid inside it. This is crucial, as any chemical interference could affect the vaccine. Only a handful of companies make the vials, with Schott in Germany one of the leading producers. 

Industry insiders have suggested that the UK needs to ramp up production itself to stop its reliance on overseas companies. Dave Dalton, chief executive of the trade body British Glass, said the supply chain 'needs to be strengthened and improved', adding that the supply of medical glass and vials was something that the industry had raised itself – and is ready to help sort out.

Advanced nurse practitioner Justine Williams (left) prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to 82-year-old James Shaw, the first person in Scotland to receive the vaccination

Advanced nurse practitioner Justine Williams (left) prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to 82-year-old James Shaw, the first person in Scotland to receive the vaccination

Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, suggested issues with so-called 'fill and finish' materials, including glass vials, could hinder the vaccine's rollout. 'The only thing that is going to slow us down is batches of vaccines becoming available,' he said during a Downing Street briefing. 'Many of you know already that it's not just about vaccine manufacture. It's about fill and finish, which is a critically short resource across the globe.' The Department of Health denies there are any vial shortages.

The UK has manufactured around 15million doses of the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine so far, with plants in Germany and the Netherlands providing more of the early batches. However, only four million doses have been through the fill and finish process – and are still awaiting MHRA clearance.

Do we have enough people to give jabs?

Retired doctors have complained that red tape has stopped them from returning to the frontline to deliver Covid vaccines.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock vowed to tackle the problem, with some would-be volunteers asked for 21 documents proving they are trained in areas such as counter- terrorism and racial equality.

Practice Sister Tina Sutton (left) administers a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to Derek Davies Games at the Pontcae Medical Practice in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales

Practice Sister Tina Sutton (left) administers a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to Derek Davies Games at the Pontcae Medical Practice in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales

NHS England says it has 'tens of thousands' of vaccinators ready to be called upon when more doses are ready to be administered. The army includes healthcare workers such as physiotherapists, nurse practitioners and paramedics who were given the green light to administer jabs after a rule change this summer.

An NHS spokesman said there were 'thousands more' in training, but added that the Health Service was confident it has enough people to staff the vaccination programme as it expands. Medics from the Armed Forces are also set to be deployed.

Are checks too long?

BUREAUCRACY has been blamed for slowing down the actual act of vaccination, too, with patients facing lengthy quizzes about their medical history.

Some say they underwent a 15-minute medical questionnaire over the phone before being asked for many of the same details when they arrived for their jab.

Once vaccinated, patients should be monitored for 15 minutes to ensure they have no adverse reactions – meaning the whole process can take around 45 minutes. Doctors have suggested that this should be streamlined, as it severely limits how many vaccines can be delivered at any given site in one day.

What about the manufacturers?

Pharmaceutical companies have hit back at any suggestion that they are to blame for delays.

Pfizer and BioNTech – producers of the first vaccine approved by the MHRA – said they have now sent 'millions' of doses to the UK, with up to 40million expected in the coming months.

AstraZeneca has confirmed it expects to be able to supply two million doses of the Oxford vaccine to the NHS every week by the second half of this month, with at least 20million due by the end of March. The jab has only been available at hospital hubs so far – but GP surgeries will join the rollout tomorrow. 

Boris Johnson promises daily updates on Britain's Covid vaccine drive as NHS drafts High Street giants Superdrug and Boots to deliver jabs in stores - but is Prime Minister over-promising again?  

The Prime Minister pledged to keep the public in the loop about the mass Covid immunisation programme Three Morrisons car parks and three Boots stores converting into temporary vaccine hubs from next Monday Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to move jabs, while BrewDog has volunteered its closed pubs Number 10 has pledged to vaccinate around 13million of the most vulnerable Britons by middle of next month
Which high street chains have offered to help and which ones have been approved? 

Several high street chains are in talks with the Government about helping with the vaccine roll out.

But so far only Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons have been approved to start dishing out doses. 

Approved:

Boots - three sites starting next week, with 'more to come'.

Superdrug - five sites starting next week, with 'tens more' to be approved.

Morrisons - Three car parks converted into drive-through vaccine clinics from Monday, with more on standby if needed.

In talks:

Tesco - offered to use its lorries and warehouses to help with logistics.

Pub chains Brewdog, Young's, Marston's and Loungers - offered to use closed pubs as temporary clinics.

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Boris Johnson tonight promised to update the nation on Britain's great Covid vaccination drive every day starting next week, as the NHS called on High Street giants to help drastically ramp up the scheme in hopes of hitting the goal of 2million a week. 

Admitting there were still 'long weeks ahead' and urging England to persevere with the nation's third lockdown, the Prime Minister pledged to keep the public in the loop about the mass immunisation programme, which is the only way out of the endless cycle of lockdowns. 

Mr Johnson said in a Downing Street press conference that health chiefs would offer daily updates from Monday 'so that you can see day-by-day and jab-by-jab how much progress we are making'. 

His pledge comes after Sir Keir Starmer sent a warning shot over his promise, claiming it will be another example of No10 'over-promising and under-delivering' if it fails. The Labour leader said scaling up the programme — which has so far inoculated 1.3million people in a month — would be a 'struggle' and that there was 'no room for error'. 

MailOnline also revealed today that the Government will use Superdrug help vaccinate 13million Britons by mid-February, with stores in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Guildford and Basingstoke just waiting on delivery of doses to start dishing them out from as soon as next week. 

Tens more sites are on standby across the UK if needed. Each store will be able to inject 1,000 people every week and will operate from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. Patients will be referred to the clinics through the normal NHS booking service and vaccines will be carried out by trained in-store pharmacists and nurses.

Boots is also turning three of its pharmacies in Halifax, Huddersfield and Gloucester into vaccine clinics to bolster the programme, with more to come. While Morrisons announced three of its car parks will be converted into drive-through vaccination centres from Monday. 

Meanwhile, Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to help move doses quickly around the country and craft brewer BrewDog has claimed it's in talks with ministers about turning its closed bars into temporary jab hubs. Pub chains are also throwing their weight behind the rollout of the mass vaccination scheme to get life back to normal by spring, with firms such as Young's, Marston's and Loungers offering their venues as potential sites.

It comes as England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said scaling up the vaccination programme was 'realistic but not easy'. He added: 'The NHS is going to have to use multiple channels to get this out but they are very determined to do this, but that does not make it easy.'    

In the same briefing that Mr Johnson revealed that the spread of the mutant version of the disease made lockdown impossible to avoid, Professor Whitty also delivered a grim message that 'some' restrictions could still be needed next winter, as the virus was likely to be in regular circulation like flu.  

Admitting there were still 'long weeks ahead' and urging England to persevere with the nation's third lockdown, the Prime Minister pledged to keep the public in the loop about the mass immunisation programme

Admitting there were still 'long weeks ahead' and urging England to persevere with the nation's third lockdown, the Prime Minister pledged to keep the public in the loop about the mass immunisation programme

Superdrug and Boots are poised to start dishing out thousands of jabs next week, while car parks at supermarket Morrisons will be converted to drive-through vaccination centres from Monday. Meanwhile, Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to help move doses quickly around the country and craft brewer BrewDog has claimed it's in talks with ministers about turning its closed bars into temporary jab hubs. Pub chains are also throwing their weight behind the rollout of the mass vaccination scheme to get life back to normal by spring, with firms such as Young's, Marston's and Loungers offering their venues as potential sites

Superdrug and Boots are poised to start dishing out thousands of jabs next week, while car parks at supermarket Morrisons will be converted to drive-through vaccination centres from Monday. Meanwhile, Tesco has offered up its warehouses and lorries to help move doses quickly around the country and craft brewer BrewDog has claimed it's in talks with ministers about turning its closed bars into temporary jab hubs. Pub chains are also throwing their weight behind the rollout of the mass vaccination scheme to get life back to normal by spring, with firms such as Young's, Marston's and Loungers offering their venues as potential sites

World leader: Israel has already given a first dose to nearly 1.4million of its 8.7million population, and plans to have a fifth of its people fully vaccinated by the end of January. The rapid rollout contrasts with the delays that have hampered the process in Europe and the US

World leader: Israel has already given a first dose to nearly 1.4million of its 8.7million population, and plans to have a fifth of its people fully vaccinated by the end of January. The rapid rollout contrasts with the delays that have hampered the process in Europe and the US 

If, If, If, If... how likely is it that No10 will vaccinate 13million Britons by mid-February?

Boris Johnson last night vowed to give one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 13.2million care home residents, over-70s, frontline health workers and Britons classified as 'vulnerable' by mid-February.

It is the first time that the government outlined a target number of vaccinations, amid fears No10 is delivering doses too slowly to lift restrictions by Easter, which the Prime Minister suggested would be possible. 

But the PM included a number of caveats in his target and said it would be dependent on everything going in the government's favour. 

His comments came after experts warned that Britain may not be free of coronavirus restrictions until next winter, unless the NHS hits its ambitious target of vaccinating 2million people every week. 

There are still huge questions about whether the NHS will be able to hit 2million jabs a week target, which scientists say Britain needs to get to 'very quickly' to have any hope of a normal summer.

AstraZeneca bosses have pledged to deliver the milestone figure of doses a week by mid-January. And the NHS has promised it will be able to dish them out as quickly as it gets them.

But there already appears to be cracks forming in the supply chain. Only 530,000 doses of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine will be available for vulnerable people this week, despite officials promising at least 4million just weeks ago. 

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned that vaccine availability issues will 'remain the case for several months' as firms struggle to keep up with global demand. 

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Discussing the vaccine roll-out in tonight's press conference, Mr Johnson said the total numbers for the first four JCVI groups are a little higher than the 13 million target figure previously mentioned.

He said: 'We're going to do them as fast as we possibly can. We've set the target, as you know, by the middle of February. Yes, it is a huge effort, the biggest vaccination programme in the history of this country.'

Mr Johnson added it will require the combined efforts of the NHS and the Armed Services, and that every part of Government is working 'absolutely flat out' on the roll-out.

He said the rate-limiting factor is 'making sure that we can get enough vaccine where we want it fast enough'.

Further details on the number of vaccinations carried out will be given on Thursday and will be released daily from Monday, he said.

He added: 'What we will be trying to do is to try to break down some of these figures for people so everybody can see which groups are getting the vaccine and how it's being distributed across the country.'

He said it is something of 'massive national interest' as he committed to being 'as transparent as we can possibly be'.

No10 has pledged to vaccinate around 13million of the most vulnerable Brits — including care home residents and staff, NHS workers and all over-70s — by mid-February, in the hope of then being able to ease the most draconian curbs. The mammoth target would require vaccinating about 2million people a week.

But there are serious doubts about whether the target is achievable, given it has been slow to get off the ground and the NHS will need to juggle running the biggest immunisation programme in British history with battling the greatest crisis it has ever faced as Covid patients continue to pour into hospitals. 

Record numbers of staff absences and stringent infection control measures are also making the jobs of frontline health workers more difficult.

The NHS has refused to commit to the two million target because of potential vaccine supply shortages, staffing concerns and other logistical hurdles. 

There is also a suggestion that health bosses want to distance themselves from the Government's arbitrary targets, given that it has failed to hit numerous goals throughout the pandemic, including ramping up daily swabbing capacity and expanding NHS Test and Trace. 

If it wants to deliver on the 13million promise, the NHS will need to move four times quicker than its winter flu jab programme.  

Sir Keir Starmer sent a warning shot to Boris Johnson today over the PM's ambitious goal of vaccinating 13million Brits by mid-February, claiming if it fails it will be yet another example of No10 'over-promising and under-deliverin

Sir Keir Starmer sent a warning shot to Boris Johnson today over the PM's ambitious goal of vaccinating 13million Brits by mid-February, claiming if it fails it will be yet another example of No10 'over-promising and under-deliverin

How Israel has leaped ahead in the Covid vaccine race 

Israel has leaped ahead in the global vaccine race by squeezing every last dose out of its vaccine supplies and using its efficient health system to launch a 24/7 immunisation drive with military help - with Benjamin Netanyahu making himself as visible as possible as he bids for re-election in March.

Some 1.4million Israelis have already had a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, with nearly a sixth of the 8.7million population immunised against Covid-19 in less than three weeks.

Nearly 146,000 people received the jab on Monday alone - more than some Western countries including , Spain and Canada have distributed in total - with jabs being given out in sports arenas and military reservists being drafted in to help.

While only Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have been used so far, Israel has also had deals in place with Moderna and AstraZeneca since before any of the jabs were approved.

It has also divided up its vaccine stocks to get them to remote areas, and some of its health workers have even extracted extra doses from the vials they receive.

In addition, Israelis have been promised digital 'green passports' allowing them to sidestep certain lockdown rules once they receive both doses.

Health ministry director-general Hezi Levy said that around a fifth of Israel's population would have had both shots by the end of this month.

'By the end of January, we shall have inoculated two million residents, most of them elderly,' he said.

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Figures show only 11.68million people eligible for a free flu jab from their GP in England got one last winter, at a rate of 470,000 per week. For comparison, the speed of the entire UK's current Covid inoculation drive — which relied on just one vaccine until yesterday — stands at 330,000 per week. 

In order to vaccinate all 13million Britons in the four most at-risk categories by mid-February, the NHS operation must speed up six-fold to 2million a week. Only 1million doses have been dished out so far, which means roughly 12million still need to get their vaccine in the 41 days between now and February 15. 

That is the equivalent of around 290,000 a day. It is crucial people are vaccinated 12 days before measures are relaxed because the vaccines take 12 days to start working. Department of Health

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