Boris Johnson pledges to ramp up Covid vaccination rollout

Boris Johnson has said he will "accelerate" the delivery of the Covid vaccine after it emerged that, under the current plan, the programme will not significantly ramp up again until March.

A plan published by the Scottish government showed that approximately 50 per cent more people will be vaccinated per week between March and May than during the current phase of the rollout.

The Government has said repeatedly that the period between now and February 15 is vital to ensuring that the most vulnerable are vaccinated and lockdown restrictions can be lifted.

But on Wednesday ministers were forced to defend the seemingly slow rollout. Despite a target of two  million jabs a week by the end of January having been set, only around three  million have been administered in total since the programme began five weeks ago.

In response, the Prime Minister announced that vaccination centres would be open 24/7 and pharmacies would be used to help with the rollout. 

The Telegraph also understands that ministers are investigating whether vaccines scheduled for delivery next month could be dispatched earlier.

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Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, was accused of "secrecy" after he cited national security concerns around revealing the plan for vaccine distribution. Manufacturers said they had been asked not to make such information available "for security reasons".    

But on Wednesday night the Scottish government published its own detailed plan of how many vaccines it expects to receive each week until May, something the UK Government has so far refused to do. Sources said the UK plan followed a similar path.

This week, Scotland is due to receive 44,840 doses in total. Extrapolated across the UK, the Scottish plan suggests the country is receiving fewer than 550,000 doses a week. But by the end of February, Scotland will be receiving 443,531 doses a week, suggesting 5.4  million doses will be delivered to the entire UK.

The Scottish plan also shows two weeks in which no doses of the AstraZeneca jab are scheduled to be delivered – a situation likely to be mirrored across the country, a source said, blaming supply problems.

On Wednesday night, ministers were furious that Nicola Sturgeon had unilaterally published the Scottish vaccine delivery schedule, fearing it could endanger supplies.

One Government source said: "The reason we didn’t want to publish these figures was because everyone in the world wants these vaccines, and if other countries see how much we are getting they are likely to put pressure on the drug firms to give them some of our allocation."

The publication of the figures also means ministers will be under extra pressure to meet their targets. Under the plans, deliveries will be ramped up in the next fortnight, with 309,382 expected in Scotland next week, equating to 3.8 million for the whole of the UK – suggesting the NHS can meet the pledge to deliver 13.9  million jabs by February 15.

Vaccination rates scenarios

However, one senior source said: "People will look at this and assume we are going to easily meet the target – but there isn’t a lot of headroom there, so it will be very tight if there are any problems in the supply chain at any point."

The schedules raise questions about the ordering process, with questions about why orders were not placed months earlier.

On Wednesday, Tom Keith-Roach, the president of AstraZeneca UK, said the process of manufacturing vaccine takes two months and cannot be expedited.

On Thursday, health chiefs will announce that 200 pharmacies will be enrolled to administer jabs in the next fortnight, with dozens more mass vaccination centres to open in the coming weeks.

GPs, meanwhile, have been told they will be paid a triple bonus for every care home resident who receives the jab by Sunday, with double rates for those given the vaccine next week. Government sources said the payments, of up to £30 per head, reflected the complexity of administering  jabs in such settings.

Mr Johnson told MPs the manufacturing process was being accelerated "as fast as we can" after doctors said they could inoculate far more people if they had more supplies.

If vaccines scheduled for delivery next month could be sent this month instead, any doses "borrowed" from future supply could then be replaced as production is ramped up and other vaccines, such as the Moderna jab, come on stream.

"We have a big big stream of vaccines coming down the track, but there is also a programme to accelerate the delivery of the Oxford vaccine," Mr Johnson told a Commons committee hearing. "So the remaining Pfizer vaccine is being brought forward, the Moderna vaccine as well.

"We’re doing everything we can to bring forward the manufacturing process as fast as we can so that we can start getting it into people’s arms in the timeliest way."

A Government source said: "We are always looking at vaccine delivery and whether doses that were scheduled for certain periods of time can be moved forward. We are looking at ways in which we may be able to bring forward some deliveries. It is not a regulatory issue, it’s more a negotiation with the manufacturers.

"The number of available vaccines will become greater over time, so the supply will continue even if you move some deliveries forward."

AstraZeneca said on Wednesday it had been asked by Government "not to share" details of quantities and timings of supplies.

On Wednesday night it was reported that 21 million doses of the vaccine are currently in Britain. Most are awaiting regulator approval and are yet to be put in vials.

At a meeting of the Commons science and technology committee, Mr Zahawi was accused by the Labour MP Graham Stringer of keeping data on vaccine supplies "secret" and being "phobic" about releasing numbers.

But the minister said: "It’s not about wanting to withhold information from a committee, although there is a consideration here because the whole world is looking to acquire vaccines at the moment. The more we say – or, dare I say, show off – about how many vaccines [or] batches we’re receiving, the more difficult life becomes for the manufacturers."

About how the NHS would hit the February 15 target, he said he expected around four million doses to have been given by next week. 

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