Covid: 24/7 vaccine pilots to begin by end of month in 'London or Midlands'

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks

Coronavirus vaccines in England will be rolled out on a 24-hour basis by the end of the month, the vaccines minister has said.

Nadhim Zahawi, who is in charge of the government's Covid-19 vaccine programme, told ITV News that a round-the-clock rollout of jabs would be piloted in "probably either London or the Midlands.

He said the pilots, which are expected to be in place by the end of January, will trial "different types of 24/7 delivery to make sure we learn from it and we get it right".

If successful, the government will then look at how to expand the pilots around the country to ensure as many people as possible are being vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Mr Zahawi said 24/7 vaccines are not currently required because the 8am to 8pm schedule is more appropriate for those currently being offered the vaccines - primarily those over 80 years of age.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi explains forthcoming 24/7 vaccine pilots:

As more and more of the most vulnerable are vaccinated, the government will look to offer vaccines around the clock to groups more able to meet late-night or early-morning appointment times.

"We will then make sure that we can learn from the 24/7 pilot of how we can make it more convenient so we can vaccinate more people as more volumes of the vaccines, that we're expecting to come in, begin to arrive," he said.

Boris Johnson, providing an update on the UK's vaccine rollout, said "about four million people" in the UK had received their first jab.

He said that accounts for "more than half" of the over-80s and "half of the people in care homes".

Mr Zahawi cited the fifth most vulnerable cohort - those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions - as a group that may welcome 24/7 appointments.

With more than 3.8 million of the most vulnerable - including over-80s, care home residents and NHS and social care staff - having already received their first jab of the vaccine, the over-70s and those clinically extremely vulnerable will be offered vaccines from Monday.

The government has hailed the next step in its vaccination rollout a “significant milestone”.

Priority will remain vaccinating the two most vulnerable groups, but sites which have enough supply and capacity to vaccinate more people will be allowed to offer jabs to the next two cohorts.

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It is another step toward the government achieving its goal of vaccinating the top four most vulnerable groups by mid-February, which the government hopes will allow it to begin easing off some lockdown restrictions.

Boris Johnson has pledged to offer vaccinations to the first four priority groups by the middle of next month, while Dominic Raab said on Sunday that all adults would be offered a first dose by September.

A further 10 mass vaccination centres will open in England this week as the government seeks to ramp up capabilities in order to reach its targets.

Once everyone in the top nine groups have been offered a vaccine, the focus will turn to phase two of the rollout, which will see a drive to inoculate the rest of the population.

The government has said it expects teachers and police officers to be among the first offered a jab in phase two of the rollout, but others such as shop workers are being considered.

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Mr Zahawi said he thinks there is justification for those who cannot work from home to be prioritised as the vaccination programme develops.

Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he said: “My instinct is that anyone who, through no fault of their own, has to come into contact with the virus in much greater volume and probability should be protected – teachers, policemen and women, shop workers, all those who need that additional protection.

“Now, some of them will be captured in the top nine categories anyway if they are clinically vulnerable, for example, or in that age group of the over-50s which are in category nine, effectively.

“But phase two – of course we’ll be guided by the JCVI – but my instinct is that if you work in a job, a shop worker, policemen or women, any other profession which brings you into contact with the virus unfairly, then I think you should be prioritised.”