50 mass Covid vaccine centres and 2m jabs a week - is England’s plan feasible?
The UK government has pledged to set up 50 mass Covid-19 vaccination centres across England by 31 January, with the aim of immunising two million people per week.
The rollout will mean tens of millions will be immunised against coronavirus by the spring at more than 2,700 vaccination centres across the UK, as the vaccination programme is rapidly upscaled.
Two million jabs per week
Under the Covid-19 Vaccines Delivery Plan, everyone in England will be within 10 miles of a vaccination site by the end of January, or for a small number of highly rural areas, the vaccine will be brought to them via mobile teams.
The increase in vaccine centres will mean there will be capacity to deliver at least two million vaccinations in England per week by the end of this month, and all residents and staff in more than 10,000 care homes will be offered the jab before February.
Currently there are seven mass vaccination centres in the UK, which opened this week in Bristol, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Surrey, Newcastle and Stevenage.
However, this number is to be increased to 50 by 31 January, with centres to be based in football stadiums, conference centres, hotels, theatres and similar venues across England, which will be accessed via a national booking system.
The locations of these other 43 mass centres are yet to be confirmed, along with the dates they will be set up.
The expansion of the programme also includes plans for 206 hospital hubs and 1,200 local vaccination sites, including primary care networks, community pharmacy sites and mobile teams.
This will ensure that every at-risk person has easy access to a vaccination centre, while the upscaled rollout will mean that all adults will be offered a vaccine by the autumn.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for England, said he is confident that the NHS will be able to deliver the government target, stating: “We all have confidence that the NHS can stand up to this challenge and can deliver it.
“We have seen a number of boosts and gear changes. When we get the supply delivered to us, the NHS will get that supply of vaccine jabbed into people’s arms as quickly as we possibly can.”
Is the plan feasible?
More than two million people in the UK have now been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines since the programme began.
People in the top four priority groups, which include the over 70s, shielders, NHS and frontline staff, and elderly care home residents and staff, have been promised their first dose by 15 February.
These groups account for 88 per cent of Covid-19 fatalities, meaning the move will help prevent thousands of deaths once immunity develops after 14 days. A total of 15 million people are in the first four priority groups, according to the government.
As such, the government only has five weeks to reach its target of vaccinating a further 12.5 million people with their fist dose to reach its target.
Asked if the ambitious goal was feasible, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Yes. We are on track to meet that target.
“It’s an ambitious, stretching but achievable target, and I am confident that we are going to do it, because since we rolled out the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine through primary care, we’ve seen the rate of vaccination increase to 210,000 per day on average, and the rollout will increase further because of the mass vaccination sites that we’ve opened.”
There are 17 million in the next five priority groups, which include all over 50s, which should be offered their fist doses by “late spring”.
The remaining 21 million adults in the rest of the UK population will follow after this, with everyone expected to be offered their first dose “by autumn”. This means there will be 53 million adults who will be offered the vaccine in total.
People will only be offered their second dose, which completes the vaccine's protection, around 12 weeks after their first following a change of government policy.
Clive Dix, interim chair of the government’s Vaccines Taskforce, added: “We have worked at unprecedented pace and scale to ensure Britain receives vaccines that meet strict safety standards as quickly as possible.
“The UK has led the world in procuring, authorising and deploying vaccines and I am confident that, working closely with manufacturers, we are ready and able to meet the government’s target for vaccinations.”