Hundreds of GP surgeries across England are to begin administering the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from Thursday.
The move marks a considerable step forward in the drive to mass vaccinate the population as the UK faces a race to protect the population after the daily reported death toll topped 1,000.
It is hoped that more than 700 sites will be delivering vaccines by the end of the week, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine easier to administer given it can be stored at fridge temperatures, unlike the Pfizer jab which requires storage at minus 70C.
Seven mass vaccination centres will open next week in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Surrey and Stevenage.
It also means it is easier to get into care homes and to housebound people with GPs being offered a cash incentive to get care home residents vaccinated sooner.
But it comes as delivery problems with the jab were highlighted by medics on Twitter.
An NHS GP and medical journalist has said that her practice is “raring to go” but has no vaccines because of delays in the delivery of Covid jabs.
Dr Rosemary Leonard said that patients were facing a “postcode lottery”.
She tweeted: “Covid vaccination from the front line. My group of practices was initially told we would get our first delivery on 28th December. Then 4th Jan. Then 11th Jan. Now we are ‘6th wave’ and it will be 13th, 14th or 15th Jan. We are raring to go, but have no vaccines. WHY?”
Dr Leonard added: “And from replies loads of practices across the country are in same position, is real postcode lottery for patients. There must be central supply issues - would be good to be given a truthful explanation.”
A number of doctors responded, including one who wrote: “How are we meant to book 1,000 patients, without knowing the day it arrives?”
The UK reported a further 1,041 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday – the highest daily reported total since April 21.
Record numbers are also currently in hospital with coronavirus, with a further 3,500 admitted in England on Monday January 4.
Boris Johnson, who was given the overwhelming backing of MPs for the latest lockdown, warned that there was now a race between the spread of the virus and the delivery of vaccines to the most vulnerable.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi admitted the target of vaccinating around 14 million people in the highest priority groups – including the elderly, those with clinical needs, care home residents and staff as well as frontline NHS workers – by February 15 was “stretching”.
In his address to the nation on Monday, Mr Johnson has said it is a ‘realistic expectation’ that all people in the top four priority groups will have received their first Covid vaccine dose by mid-February.
Some 1.3 million people have already received either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, the bid to increase the speed of inoculations will see the approval period needed for Covid vaccine batches slashed from 20 days to just four.
The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the body responsible for the checks, is also set to increase staffing in a bid to accelerate the programme, the paper reported.
Ministers have already decided, in a move queried by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to administer the first jab to as many priority patients as possible by delaying a second shot.
The second jab will be given 12 weeks later to prevent current supplies from being held back. In the clinical trials, vaccine recipients received a follow-up shot within three weeks.
The figures, however, continue to be affected by a lag in the publication of recent data and contain some deaths that took place over the Christmas and New Year period that have only just been reported.
Of the 1,041 new deaths, around a third took place before January 1, while some 100 took place in the seven days up to Christmas Day.