By Lina Saigol
The U.K. government will pilot the first 24-hour vaccination sites by the end of the January, as the country presses ahead with the biggest vaccine rollout in its history .
England is vaccinating an average of 140 people a minute, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News on Monday. “We will see that improve,” he said, adding that he believed it is “achievable” to vaccinate all adults by September.
More than 3.8 million people, including one in three people aged 80 or over, have already received their first dose of either the shot developed by U.S. drug company Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.78% and its German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +6.68% , or the vaccine made by AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN +0.61% in collaboration with the University of Oxford.
The government has set an ambitious target to vaccinate 14 million of those most at risk by the middle of February. In a bid to meet that goal, the vaccination program will be expanded on Monday to those aged 70 and over and those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable.
A rugby ground, a racecourse, food court and cathedral are among 10 new large-scale vaccine hubs, capable of inoculating thousands of people a week, that will open this week. The new sites mean there will be 17 vaccination centers offering people an alternative to primary-care-led and hospital services, with more to follow, the National Health Service said.
In a separate interview with the BBC on Monday, Zahawi said that vaccine supply “remains challenging” and is the limiting factor in the rollout of coronavirus shots, but was confident of meeting the government’s mid February target for those in the top four risk groups.
His comments came after it emerged over the weekend that the U.K. faces short-term delays in delivery of the Pfizer–BioNTech shot while the U.S. drug company upgrades its production capacity.
“We will be back to the original schedule of deliveries to the European Union beginning the week of January 25, with increased delivery beginning the week of February 15 resulting in our ability to deliver the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter,” said Pfizer and BioNTech in a statement on Friday.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of Valneva /zigman2/quotes/202377434/delayed FR:VLA +7.25% said that the French pharmaceutical company was “days away” from starting commercial manufacturing of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine at a plant in Scotland.
“We cannot release it without regulatory approval so we’re in a little bit of a Catch-22 situation and there are certainly scenarios that we are currently discussing with the regulators,” Thomas Lingelbach told the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
In September, Valneva /zigman2/quotes/206365222/delayed UK:0OB3 0.00% said that its vaccine candidate would be available for use in the U.K. in the second half of 2021. The U.K. has ordered 60 million doses of Valneva’s experimental shot, compared with 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine.
A further 671 coronavirus deaths were reported in the U.K. on Sunday, but the number of new cases has fallen by almost a third since last week, suggesting that the latest lockdown measures are working.
In a further attempt to protect against the spread of new coronavirus variants, such as those identified in Brazil and South Africa, from Monday, all international arrivals into the U.K, must self-isolate for 10 days, or show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken at least five days after they enter the country.
Trade body Airlines U.K. said it supported the latest restrictions “on the assumption that we will work with Government — when the time is right — to remover these restrictions when it is safe to do so.”