The British government will open seven mass vaccination centres on Monday as part of efforts to accelerate the roll out of COVID-19 inoculations that the government wants to deliver to all vulnerable people by the middle of next month.
The country, which was the first to approve vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and by Oxford-AstraZeneca, is currently immunising about 200,000 people a day, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.
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About 1.3 million people had received their first dose of the two-dose vaccination as of January 3, according to government data, but the UK needs to inoculate two million people a week to meet its target of vaccinating those in care homes, the over-70s, the clinically vulnerable with pre-existing conditions and health and socia care workers by February 15.
Britain is pinning its hopes on rapid immunisation to enable life to start returning to some degree of normality by the northern hemisphere spring, even as it tackles a rapidly escalating pandemic.
As well as the seven large centres, Britain is also turning to 1,000 clinics, 223 hospitals, and 200 community pharmacies to deliver the vaccinations, Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said in a statement. The armed forces will also be deployed in the support of the National Health Service.
“Working together, day and night, they will ensure our vaccines are going into arms rather than sitting on shelves,” Zahawi said. “UK forces will use techniques borne out of decades of experience of getting things done in some of the toughest conditions imaginable. They’ll bring the bravery and brilliance they shown in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to these shores.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will set out his COVID-19 immunisation plan – the biggest vaccination programme in British history – later on Monday.
“The UK vaccine delivery plan will be the keystone of our exit out of the pandemic, but we all must continue to play our part by staying at home, following the rules and keeping hands, face, space at the forefront of our minds when out and about,” he said in a statement.
Some 81,567 people in the UK have died from COVID-19, the fifth-highest official death toll in the world. More than three million people have tested positive for coronavirus.
The mass vaccination centres include the 4,000-bed ‘Nightingale’ field hospital set up in the ExCel exhibition centre in east London, Epsom racecourse west of the capital and a giant leisure centre in Manchester.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London’s ExCel centre, said UK officials hoped their immunisation plan would “provide the bedrock upon which they can bounce off and start vaccinating a wider group of the population as well”.
“The expectation is that this should run smoothly, but there is a question mark as to why this is only [happening for] 12 hours a day, for example, and why not 24 hours,” he said.
“The government minister responsible started to say that was because it was more convenient for older people, but he then admitted it is down to a lack of supply of the vaccines, so there are some teething problems to start with.”