Covid: Pfizer vaccine arrives in UK with rollout to start next week

  • Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

The Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine arrived in the UK on Thursday and is on its way to storage facilities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, ITV News understands.

It will be distributed from these storage facilities early next week to 50 hospital hubs acting as vaccination points.

It is understood that the Black Country Living Museum and Birmingham’s Millennium Point are among sites set to host temporary mass vaccination centres, according to PA.

Parts of Malvern’s Three Counties’ Showground in Worcestershire and the Villa Park site, home of Aston Villa FC, are also being mooted as possible venues, according to local government sources.

NHS England is not confirming the locations but a spokesperson for the Malvern showground confirmed discussions have taken place but nothing has been confirmed.

The Black Country and West Birmingham’s clinical commissioning groups and sustainability and transformation partnership (STP) said it would confirm details of vaccine centres shortly.

Chief nursing officer Sally Roberts said details are not yet being released “given security reasons and various logistical steps needed before distribution”.

The Black Country Living Museum is being considered as a mass vaccination hub, according to PA. Credit: PA

The Government is seeking some 1,250 other local sites, mainly GP surgeries and health centres, alongside some community centres, from which to administer any vaccine, regional and local government sources said.

St John Ambulance is also training more than 30,000 volunteers between now and spring 2021, to support the NHS in delivering the national vaccination programme.

Vaccinations will be rolled out first at hospitals, with overall co-ordination of deliveries of jabs handled by 53 NHS trust vaccine hubs, set out in a letter from NHS England to providers last month.

Jabs will then be delivered from mass vaccination hubs in places like conference halls and sports arenas, with GPs surgeries and health centres likely to follow.

Leicester racecourse has reportedly been approached as another mass vaccination hub, with NHS signs springing up on-site amid signs of advanced-stage preparations.

Plans for Derby Arena’s use as a mass vaccination centre are being finalised Credit: Tim Goode/PA

Derby City Council leaders also confirmed the local authority is finalising arrangements for Derby Arena to be used.

Military personnel have also been sighted at Ashton Gate Stadium, home of Bristol City FC and Bristol Bears rugby club, to begin setting up the site.

A report to the University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust (UHBW) board estimated up to 110,000 people a week could be vaccinated at the sports ground.

There has previously been speculation the NEC exhibition centre near Birmingham Airport and Utilita Arena in Birmingham city centre, run by NEC Group, could also be among sites earmarked for future vaccinations.

Part of the sprawling NEC complex is already home to the Birmingham Nightingale Hospital, which is on 72-hour standby if needed as an overspill for West Midlands’ health services.

Vaccine experts have called for patience after it was revealed that care home residents will not be first in line to get the Pfizer jab.

Logistical issues involved in safely transporting the vaccine to care homes around the country means that elderly residents who cannot leave their homes may experience some delay.

Pfizer and BioNTech have said the jab can be sent to care homes as long as it travels for no more than six hours after it leaves cold storage and is then put in a normal fridge at 2C to 8C.

But there is not yet approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to split the vaccine boxes containing 975 doses, meaning some would be wasted if sent to individual residential homes.

Jeane Freeman announced vaccinations in care homes could begin from Monday December 14. Credit: PA

However, Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced vaccinations in care homes could begin from Monday December 14.

Ms Freeman said talks over lunchtime on Thursday had confirmed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can be transported in an unfrozen state for up to 12 hours and can also be broken down into smaller packs in “certain conditions”.

It is understood Wales will confirm when it will start rolling out the vaccine to care homes in the next 48 hours.

But NHS England would not commit on a date to roll the vaccine out in English care homes.

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan explained that in order to split the batches, it has to be done by specific commercial companies which are then signed off by MHRA.

  • Watch ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan explains the logistics of delivering the vaccine to care homes around the country:

Downing Street has said the NHS is working closely with the regulator to find a way to administer the Pfizer vaccine in care homes.

Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI said he understood the news about care home delays would be disappointing for residents and their families, but asked for “a very small degree of patience” in delivering a new vaccine.

He told the Today Programme: “We have got an exciting vaccine, we have got others that are in the pipeline and we fully expect the programme and our priority list to be rolled out in the very near future.

“So I think the very short-term practical difficulties of getting this out from a storage point of view should not let us all lose sight of the fact that these care home residents and their staff are our utmost priority – and it may well be possible to get the care home staff to be immunised within a local hospital setting.”

The National Care Forum said the only viable solution for care home residents is to get the jabs “over the threshhold”.

A spokeswoman said: “It seems that the Scottish Government has come to a different conclusion and in fact intends to honour the prioritisation outlined by the JCVI and deliver the vaccine directly to Scottish care homes.

“It is not at all clear at this moment why the English Government is not pursuing this path.”

She called for “urgent guarantees” that the other vaccines be delivered on site into care homes if challenges delivering the Pfizer jab are not overcome.

She added: “It’s all very well to ask care homes to be ‘patient’, but having outlined just how life changing this could be, the patience of residents, relatives and providers shouldn’t be expected to stretch too far. ”

Earlier on Thursday, experts suggested care home residents, and elderly people who cannot leave their own homes, may have to wait for other vaccines to be approved.