‘Everything needs to go right every single day’ for government to hit mid-February vaccine target

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·4-min read
Practice Nurse Tina Sutton draws off a single dose from a vial, which can provide 10 individual doses to patients, of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, being used at the Pontcae Medical Practice in Merthyr Tydfil as the NHS ramps up its vaccination programme with 530,000 doses of the newly approved jab available for rollout across the UK.
Practice Nurse Tina Sutton draws off a single dose from a vial, which can provide 10 individual doses to patients, of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine (PA)
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coronavirus latest news

The UK government’s target of 13 million people receiving a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-February can only be reached if there are no mistakes, an expert has said.

Prof Nilay Shah, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London, warned on Tuesday that the UK needs to hit 200,000 doses a day to reach the target.

He added that this is achievable but “everything needs to go right every single day”.

So far 1.3 million people in the UK have received jabs after vaccinations started just over a month ago.

It comes after he revealed the ambitious target of 13 million by mid-February when he announced the third national lockdown on Monday.

Read: The extraordinary omission from Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement

Speaking in a televised address, Boris Johnson said the target was ”the NHS’s realistic expectations for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks”.

Johnson also suggested a return to normality is staked on vaccine programme's success and notably made no mention of the NHS Test and Trace system as another strategy to control the disease.

He said: “What we do know is that the more effective our vaccination programme, the more people who are protected in that way, the easier it will be to lift these restrictions.”

File photo dated 24/06/2020 of a scientist at work in the manufacturing laboratory where a vaccine against Covid-19 has been produced at the Oxford Vaccine Group's facility at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. The vaccine, which has been described as a "game changer", has now been approved for use in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
A scientist at work in the manufacturing lab where a COVID-19 vaccine has been produced at the Oxford Vaccine Group's facility at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. (PA)

Meanwhile, Prof Shah said that “a great deal of co-ordination of manufacturing, logistics, rapid training of vaccination administration personnel, co-operation of patients” will be needed to reach a high level of daily vaccinations.

By the middle of February, the government plans to have vaccinated the top four priority groups - which are those over 70, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, those in care homes, and health and care workers.

However, it is unclear whether this includes both doses for full immunisation or just the first jab.

Shah said: “If the aim is for the first dose for the top four priority groups by mid-February, then we would need to hit 200,000 doses a day, again this is achievable but everything needs to go right every single day.”

Watch: Boris Johnson outlines latest vaccination figures during coronavirus briefing

Meanwhile, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the NHS was working “24/7” to ensure 13 million people were vaccinated by mid-February.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: “We’re increasing the numbers this week and we’re hoping, as the prime minister outlined, to reach just over 13 million in February.”

Asked about what was being done logistically to ensure the most vulnerable were inoculated by the school half-term, Gove added: “Everything. We do want to make sure these vaccines are delivered in the safest possible way, that we do everything we can not to waste a drop.

“The process of making sure the vaccine can be placed in the appropriate vials and then safely injected into people’s arms is a complicated exercise but the NHS has more than risen to the challenge.

An empty High Street in Worcester city centre, Worcestershire, on the first day of the third national lockdown in England, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced further coronavirus restrictions during a televised address to the nation last night.
An empty High Street in Worcester city centre on the first day of the third national lockdown in England (PA).

“We have some of the best public servants in the world working in our NHS and they are working 24/7 in order to ensure that we can inject people, whether that is in hospitals or through GPs or in other ways.

“We’re seeking to reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, suggested that the ambitious vaccination programme could be accelerated by pharmacies becoming places where the public can receive the Oxford vaccine.

She said: “Community pharmacists already provide flu and travel vaccinations. Through pharmacies, the NHS has a ready-made workforce of skilled vaccinators who should have the opportunity to play their part to speed up delivery of the jab to priority groups.

Read: England's new lockdown restrictions won’t begin to ease until March, says Michael Gove

“As trusted healthcare professionals, pharmacists can also help build confidence in the vaccine and increase its uptake.”

During his speech on Monday, the prime minister said: “If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus.”

However, he added: “I must stress that even if we achieve this goal, there remains a time lag of two to three weeks from getting a jab to receiving immunity.

“And there will be a further time lag before the pressure on the NHS is lifted. So we should remain cautious about the timetable ahead.”

Watch: Inside a London COVID ward as UK enters lockdown