Why this week is the start of a critical phase in the UK's Covid vaccine rollout

The government wants to raise daily vaccine numbers to 600,000 a day Credit: PA

If you thought the vaccination programme in this country was going well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Ministers and health officials have been promising for days now that we are in line for a bumper few weeks and that is set to begin today.

Over the weekend, the UK took delivery of ten million doses of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute in India.

It’s part of the 100 million doses we pre-ordered but this delivery was timed to arrive just as millions of people here are due their second vaccine.

I am told it was to ensure the vaccine gets into the arms of as many as possible, as quickly as possible but it is also to ensure the rollout can continue at pace whilst second jabs will also be given. So far so good.

The aim is to upscale the number of daily vaccinations given to around 600,000 a day, meaning 4 million could be done each week by the end of March.

Credit: PA

The government’s own target is to have finished phase 1 of the vaccine roll out by the 15th April - this is to have offered everyone in the top 9 priority groups their first dose by then.

Not only are they on target to meet it but they also appear to be ahead of the target. Upscaling to 4 million a week will mean we can move to phase 2 much quicker and potentially have vaccinated every adult in this country before the end of July - the next government target.

It all sounds wonderful and indeed it is but many people have asked me recently whether the NHS itself can upscale to such a degree.

My answer would have to be yes. The reason I say this is because I have spoken to many GPs, as well as hospital managers and they all agree that they could be doing far more jabs than they’re currently doing.

The problem for them so far has been supply. Doctors and vaccine hubs have been getting people through the door as fast as the vaccine has been arriving.

If they had more stock they could, they say, be doing far more vaccinations per day. They have the capacity, as long as they have the supply.

The UK hopes to vaccinate every adult by the end of July Credit: PA

At the moment demand is not a problem but some are concerned as we get down to the younger ages vaccine hesitancy might become more of an issue.

Younger people tend to have less confidence in vaccines and fewer will think it necessary to get jabbed.

It will be interesting to see whether once supply is at full tilt and younger people are invited to come forward whether the high, daily numbers remain.

There has been a swell in optimism in recent days about coronavirus and lockdown beginning to ease so I wonder whether as cases and hospitalisations drop and deaths go down whether the younger generations may feel the vaccine isn't necessary for them?

The government has just got a huge delivery of the AstraZeneca jab Credit: PA

That is a very real worry and one the government must be aware of.

Getting to those who are ‘vaccine hesitant’ is a priority but so too must be the need to keep up the argument that we all must have it in order to protect others and keep cases to a minimum. 

The next few weeks then are critical. I’ve been saying that for a while now but they really are.

The vaccine is just beginning to have an effect but it’s just as lockdown is beginning to ease. In order to ensure there isn’t a large third wave here in the UK, like many parts of Europe are seeing, we need to ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated and that we continue to follow the rules right up until the 21st June.

That’s what we’re told but will it be that simple? 

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