Hundreds of six-man teams of medically qualified military personnel are to be placed on standby to assist the nationwide vaccine rollout, the Government will announce on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Defence has prepared a “reserve” taskforce of 1,500 personnel who will be available to fill in at jab centres that require extra staff in the event their own vaccinators fall ill.
So far, the NHS has made a formal request, via the Military Aid to the Civil Authority (Maca) convention, for 133 members of the Armed Forces to take part in the vaccine programme.
These personnel began training on January 4 and will be ready to begin administering jabs in arms from January 11. They will be dispatched in six-man teams across the seven NHS regions of England.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, has also started to scale up the taskforce, setting in motion plans for 250 six-man teams to be placed at high readiness in case a Maca request is made for more military support for the jab programme.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (right) visits Tapa Barracks, Estonia, in December
Credit: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street
Fears of vaccine centre staff falling ill with coronavirus, flu or the winter vomiting bug led to the creation of the reserve task force, which will be composed only of personnel with medical qualifications.
In addition to the military vaccinators, two Armed Forces planners are currently seconded to support the vaccine task force director, and 20 personnel are assisting with regional vaccine planning, end-to-end logistics and delivery.
The Armed Forces involvement will be revealed in greater detail at a Downing Street Press Conference at 5pm.
Brigadier Phil Prosser, the military lead on vaccines, is due to appear alongside the Prime Minister and Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.
Over 5,000 Armed Forces personnel are currently deployed to support the Government’s coronavirus response across the UK as part of Operation Rescript. They are working on 70 different tasks, including testing in schools and wider communities.
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On Sunday, Mr Wallace said: “The new year will see new levels of Armed Forces support to overcoming this pandemic. Thousands of service personnel are working throughout the United Kingdom, wherever they are needed to assist the civil authorities.
Lieutenant General Sir Tyrone Urch, commander standing joint commander UK, also paid tribute to staff who had deployed at short notice to help with mass testing centres across the country in support of the NHS, Department for Health and Social Care, devolved administrations, and local communities.
He said: “They have conducted a successful testing pilot in schools and contributed to vaccine rollout planning. Both regular and reservist personnel stepped up on Christmas Eve to help clear the backlog of trucks in Kent, setting up testing facilities overnight when they would otherwise have been spending the festive period with their families.”