Letters inviting the over-80s to attend mass vaccination centres have started to land on doormats, NHS England has said.
The first 130,000 invitations asking the elderly to sign up for a jab at the centres, which are scheduled to open this week, were due to arrive over the weekend, with more than 500,000 to follow over the next seven days.
It comes as the national coronavirus vaccination programme ramps up in a bid to meet the government’s target of offering inoculations to almost 14 million of the most vulnerable in the UK by mid-February.
The letters have been sent to people aged 80 or older who live between a 30 to 45-minute drive from one of seven new regional centres, with information about how they can book a slot either over the phone or via an online national booking service.
Sarah Browne, Director of Nursing and Quality at Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, on the importance of waiting for a letter
The seven England centres include Ashton Gate in Bristol, Epsom racecourse in Surrey, the Excel Centre where London’s Nightingale hospital is based, Newcastle’s Centre for Life, the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre, Robertson House in Stevenage and Birmingham’s Millennium Point.
The prime minister said: “Our plan is to vaccinate as many people as possible across the entire United Kingdom as quickly as we can.
“And with more than 1,000 vaccination sites across the country, including seven new mass vaccination centres, we will help protect hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people over the coming weeks as we accelerate towards offering 12 million people the jab in England by the middle of February.
“There are deeply challenging weeks ahead, but today signals another significant step forward in the race to protect the public, and defeat the virus.”
The initial batch of regional centres were chosen to give a geographical spread covering as many people as possible, NHS England said.
They will each be capable of delivering thousands of jabs per week, scaling up and down according to vaccine supplies and demand.
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “The coronavirus vaccination programme, the largest in NHS history, has got off to a strong start.
“With more vaccine supplies now coming on stream we are rapidly accelerating the programme and these large-scale NHS vaccination centres are an important new way for people to get the life-saving jab, alongside our GP and hospital services.
“NHS staff are under huge pressure with big rises in coronavirus infections leaving record numbers needing hospital treatment but are still pulling out all the stops to deliver Covid jabs as swiftly as we can.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Through our vaccine delivery plan we have already provided a first dose to more than 1.2 million people in England and we are mobilising the government, NHS and the armed forces as part of a massive national effort.
“The vaccination centres are an important milestone and will help accelerate the rollout further.”
People who book a slot at a vaccine centre will be greeted by volunteers who will marshal car parks and register them when they arrive. Bookings will be staggered to allow social distancing.
They will receive a health status check and a pre-vaccination assessment before they have their jab and then be observed for 15 minutes. The process is expected to take under an hour.
There are almost 1,000 vaccination sites in place across the country – the vast majority GP-led – with 80,000 people trained to deliver jabs.
Health officials said a further 200 new GP and hospital vaccination services are expected to open this week, while a handful of pharmacies will also start piloting administering injections.
The NHS is giving GPs an extra £10 for every care home resident that they vaccinate this month as part of a drive to protect them.