Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi says the target, which involves inoculating 13.9 million people, is a “Herculean effort”.
The UK will have to roll out more than two million coronavirus vaccines a week to meet its target of offering a jab to the top four priority groups by the middle of February, a minister has acknowledged.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that the target, which involves inoculating 13.9 million people against COVID-19, was a “Herculean effort”.
“It is a stretching target no doubt, but I’m confident that with this plan that the NHS have put together that we will deliver this,” he said.
Top of the priority list are people who live and work in care homes, followed by people over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers – including NHS staff.
Next on the list are people aged over 75, and the fourth group are people aged 70 and those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.
Mr Zahawi said of the 1.3 million doses administered so far, a quarter have gone to those over the age of 80.
Asked if the UK would need to be offering more than two million doses a week, a figure the government has previously said the NHS has the capacity to deliver, Mr Zahawi replied: “Absolutely, you’re going to see that increase.
“The NHS have got a very clear plan. We’ve got a fantastic team working seven days a week all hours to deliver this.
“As I said, I think it’s a stretching target, no doubt it’s a stretching target, but I think it’s one that we should absolutely look to deliver.”
Boris Johnson announced the target in a televised national address on Monday, that also saw him confirm a third national lockdown in England.
The prime minister said vaccinating those most vulnerable to COVID-19 would allow the government to begin considering easing restrictions.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told Sky News earlier this week that ministers “should” be able to start relaxing England’s lockdown in March.
Mr Zahawi said there would be a “massive acceleration” in the number of people vaccinated in the coming days, as well as a “real step up” in the next weekly figures for 4 to 11 January when they are reported.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he has “doubts” about whether the target can be met.
He has challenged the government to ensure the UK is the first country in the world to vaccinate its population against coronavirus.
In a TV address aired on Tuesday evening, Sir Keir called for a “massive, immediate, and round the clock” effort to vaccinate the public.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that almost 3.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are understood to be awaiting approval by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Asked about the length of time it takes for regulators to “batch test” the vaccine, Mr Zahawi said: “The MHRA are doing everything in their capability to do it properly without cutting corners and safety to test every batch, because the worst thing we can do is in a national vaccination programme that is the biggest in this nation’s history, is to get this wrong, and to have vaccine that is not effectively being used.”
Ministers have been accused of ignoring an “army” of small pharmacies as it bids to meet its vaccination target.
Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said thousands of high street pharmacies were “ready, willing and able” to help.
Mr Zahawi told Sky News that pharmacies were a “very important resource”, but hospitals were used first so the rollout can be done in a “careful way” followed by GPs, with pharmacies helping out later.
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News – COVID-19: More than two million jabs a week needed to meet vaccination target, minister says