England's Covid jab blitz begins at mass vaccination superhubs

Britain's vaccines minister today ruled out immediate 24/7 jabs at the country's new vaccination hubs opening today, blaming a shortage of medicine.

Nadhim Zahawi also admitted that said that most people currently had 'about a 45-minute drive' to the seven NHS sites opening their doors this morning, most of whom are over 80 and medically vulnerable. 

Mr Zahawi has said the vaccine rollout could take place 24 hours a day, but only when there are high enough levels of jabs. He also suggested those needing jabs now are unlikely to want an appointment in the middle of the night, meaning the current opening hours will be 8am to 8pm.

Pressed on whether it could be administered night and day when there is sufficient vaccine, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'If we need to go to 24-hour work we will absolutely go 24 hours a day to make sure we vaccinate as quickly as we can'.

The centres – which are also open to health and care staff – offer an alternative to receiving the jab at GP surgeries and in hospitals.

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They cover all seven NHS regions in England, including the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne. The others are the Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London, Ashton Gate stadium in Bristol, Epsom Racecourse in Surrey, Millennium Point in Birmingham, Robertson House in Stevenage and the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester.

Each can inoculate a patient every four minutes which means someone is given a jab every 35 seconds across all seven of the hubs, which are coming online as Boris Johnson discusses plans for a stricter lockdown including exercise limits, compulsory masks outside, nurseries shut and no support bubbles.

Today there are concerns that the centres are forcing the NHS to throw their net too wide, with an estimated 130,000 people living more than 45 minutes away from the sites invited to have their vaccinations in the coming weeks. Many are in the most vulnerable age categories with underlying health conditions and there are concerns the journey is too far for them.

Mr Zahawi admitted some of the most vulnerable do have to travel 45 minutes for a jab, but added that he wanted to reach the point where people could simply walk into their community pharmacy or local GP to receive a vaccine.  

The opening of the vaccines centres came as:  

Boris Johnson discusses plans for stricter lockdown 'including exercise limits, compulsory masks outside, nurseries shut and NO support bubbles; Supermarkets are told to bring back limit on number of customers amid new fears over lockdown rule-breaking; Video of woman being 'arrested for sitting on a bench' was 'STAGE-MANAGED by anti-lockdown protesters', Dorset Police claim, as senior officers hint at even tougher enforcement; 

Drivers arrive for the first appointments at the Covid 19 vaccination hub at the Epsom Racecourse in Surrey this morning

Drivers arrive for the first appointments at the Covid 19 vaccination hub at the Epsom Racecourse in Surrey this morning

Alex Morton, 27, receives her jab along with other health and care staff at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne

Alex Morton, 27, receives her jab along with other health and care staff at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne

Staff make preparations ahead of the opening of the NHS mass vaccination centre that has been set up in the grounds of Epsom Race Course

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Staff make preparations ahead of the opening of the NHS mass vaccination centre that has been set up in the grounds of Epsom Race Course

Signs go up at the Life Science Centre International Centre for Life in Newcastle, the hub for the north-east

Signs go up at the Life Science Centre International Centre for Life in Newcastle, the hub for the north-east

Where are the mass vaccination centres going to be set up

ExCel Centre, London

Robertson House, Stevenage

Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey 

Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol

Millennium Point, Birmingham

Etihad Tennis Centre, Manchester

Centre for Life, Newcastle

Elland Road Stadium, Leeds

Blackburn Cathedral

Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens

Telford International Centre, Telford

Black Country Living Museum, Dudley

Navigation Walk, Wakefield

Jacob's Well, Bradford

John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield 

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Mr Zahawi has suggested that police officers, teachers and other critical workers will be in the 'highest category of phase two' of the vaccine rollout.

He told Sky News that currently the programme is prioritising those most vulnerable at death from coronavirus.

He added: 'Some police officers, of course, and teachers will actually get the vaccine (in phase one) because they are in those categories, but we will very quickly move onto those other critical workers in the economy and, of course, those who are doing an incredible job, like our policemen and women in protecting us and enforcing the rules at the moment, will also be in that highest category of phase two.'

The hubs will be staffed by trained volunteers from both St John Ambulance and the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme alongside NHS staff. 

At the Newcastle site, some key workers received their jab over the weekend in advance of the doors officially opening to the public today.

There are around 1,000 vaccination centres, of which 800 are GP-led, but this will rise to 1,200 over the course of the week.

Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS's national medical director, said: 'Please don't contact the NHS to seek a vaccine, we will contact you.' 

It comes as 1.5 million in priority groups have received one of the jabs, and in order to meet the target of 13.9 million people in priority groups by mid-February there needs to be at least two million vaccinations a week.   

And Boris Johnson wants to open 50 mass vaccination centres across the country within weeks to help hit his target of offering vaccines to nearly 14 million people by the middle of next month.

It is reported at least another 43 hubs are now being planned for areas with large populations.

A source told the Sunday Telegraph: 'By mid-February there will be 50 [of them].'

It is a minimum requirement for any public immunisation centre to manage 1,000 weekly doses, and these centres will be some of the largest in the UK.

The expansion of the inoculation programme is being handled by Nadhim Zahawi MP, who Mr Johnson recently made the minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment.

But The Times has claimed much of the planning for the rollout had already been done before the former-businessman was appointed to the role. 

The Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London will also be a vaccination hub

The Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London will also be a vaccination hub 

They cover all seven NHS regions in England, including – as these pictures show – the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne

They cover all seven NHS regions in England, including – as these

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