The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) put care home residents at the top of its priority list for the jabs. But they were not among the 5,000 or so Britons who were vaccinated today as the biggest immunisation drive in history got under way.
Currently the vaccines are only being deployed at hospitals, due to logistical and regulatory problems in storing and distributing Pfizer‘s jab.
The vaccine has to be kept at -70C in special freezers which most care facilities do not have and medics are not currently allowed to divide the batches of 975 vials which they are shipped in.
But Mr Hancock — who today cried on live TV after a 90-year-old grandmother became the first Briton to receive the approved vaccine — told the House of Commons today: ‘This week we will vaccinate from hospitals across the UK, from next week we’ll expand deployment to start vaccinations by GPs and we’ll vaccinate in care homes by Christmas.
‘As more vaccines come on stream in the new year we will open vaccination centres in larger venues like sports stadia and conference halls.’
It comes as NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens hailed the launch of the mass roll out of the jab as a ‘remarkable achievement’ that shows the health service at its best.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised care homes will get access to coronavirus vaccines by Christmas (speaking in the Commons today)
The moment when Margaret Keenan, 90, today became the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, administered by nurse May Parsons, at the start of the largest ever immunisation programme in Britain’s history
Although no care home residents were inoculated today, care home staff were invited to travel to hospitals to get their jabs.
Mr Hancock told MPs he could not confirm a timescale on vaccine dose numbers given the challenges faced in manufacturing the jab.
Asked by Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson about the number of healthy under-50s who will be vaccinated by the 2021 summer holidays, Mr Hancock told the Commons: ‘Because we’re reliant on the manufacturing process, which is itself a difficult challenge, we can’t put figures on when that rollout will be.
Matt Hancock breaks down in tears on GMB as grandmother, 90, becomes first person in the WORLD to get approved Covid jab
Matt Hancock cried on live TV today after a 90-year-old grandmother from Coventry and a Warwickshire pensioner called William Shakespeare became the first people in the world to get an approved coronavirus vaccine as the country took a gigantic step towards ending the hated pandemic on ‘V-Day’.
The NHS has started the biggest vaccination drive in British history at 50 hospital sites where the UK’s new weapon in the war on Covid-19 is being rolled out to the over-80s, the vulnerable and frontline hospital and care home staff.
At least 5,000 people are expected to be inoculated today – around 100 people in each centre – with 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine already in the country as the UK’s vaccine chief Kate Bingham predicted that in 2021 ‘we will all be going on summer holidays’.
Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, was the first person in the world to receive the jab since it was approved by the UK’s regulator – calling it ‘the best early birthday present I could wish for’ after self-isolating alone since March. She celebrated her global fame in typical British-style – with a nice cup of tea.
Incredibly the next to get the jab was 81-year-old William Shakespeare from near Stratford-upon-Avon – the Bard’s home town – who appeared so relaxed many joked that to him, being the second person in the world to be vaccinated was ‘much ado about nothing’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was emotional as he watched Mrs Keenan getting the jab this morning after a grim 2020, and cried on Good Morning Britain as Mr Shakespeare hailed the ‘groundbreaking’ jab that will ‘start changing our lives’.
Mr Hancock wiped away tears as he told Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid: ‘It’s been such a tough year for so many people and there’s William Shakespeare putting it simply for everybody that we can get on with our lives’. But in a gloomy warning for Britain he added: ‘There’s still a few months to go, I’ve still got this worry that we can’t blow it now Piers, we’ve still got to get the vaccine to millions of people so we’ve got to keep sticking to the rules, there’s so much work gone into this – it makes me proud to be British’.
‘But we hope we’ll be able to lift the measures by the spring and we hope that by next summer we’ll all be having a much more normal summer.
‘I don’t want to put too much more detail on it than that, and I can’t put more in terms of the numbers because there are so many contingencies that mean what we can be sure of and work and plan to is for the NHS to be able to deliver the rollout at the speed at which the manufacturers can manufacture.’
The logistics of storing and transporting the complex Pfizer vaccine had delayed plans to make care home residents the first to receive the jabs.
The vaccine currently comes in packs of between 975 and 4,875 doses, which must be used within six hours of being transported – even if kept refrigerated in special cool bags.
Many care homes have only dozens of residents, meaning that even the smallest package would be far too many doses and lay hundreds of precious jabs to waste.
This unpacking process – which will be done by licensed private contractors working for the NHS – needs to be signed off by the MHRA, but sources last night said the issue was expected to be resolved imminently.
Mr Hancock also revealed more hospitals will be added to the list ‘later today’ to bolster the number of sites where people can get the jabs.
Responding to Conservative MP Holly Mumby-Croft, he said: ‘We’ve started at 70 hospitals across the UK.
‘Those are the ones that are best able to deal with the difficult logistics of having a vaccine that has to be stored at minus 70.
‘But I understand the desire for every hospital to get on that list and we will be publishing a further list later today.’
Scotland has already pledged to start vaccinating care home residents from December 14.
Meanwhile, Sir Simon said the launch of the national coronavirus vaccination programme was showing the NHS at its best.
He said it was a remarkable achievement that vaccinations were now being rolled out less than a year after the first case of coronavirus.
Sir Simon was speaking during a visit to the vaccination centre at Guy’s Hospital in London on Tuesday where he met staff and patients receiving their jabs.
He said: ‘It is less than a year since the first coronavirus case was diagnosed and yet here we are today beginning vaccinations across the NHS, so that’s a remarkable achievement not just on the part of the scientists, the researchers, and the regulators, but today of pharmacists, nurses and doctors.
‘In many ways this is the NHS at its best, getting new vaccinations to vulnerable patients who need them for free.’
But while Sir Simon described the start of the vaccination programme as a ‘turning point’, he said that people still needed to act sensibly to stop the virus from spreading.
He added: ‘Today is a hugely important step, but it’s a first step. Ultimately millions of patients will be offered this vaccination.
‘Between now and then it’s just incredibly important we continue to take care and act sensibly to control coronavirus before we are able to access vaccinations.’
Sir Simon also said that keeping the virus under control was the best way to make sure the health service can provide a full range of services over winter.
He added: ‘The single biggest way of making sure the NHS can provide a full range of services is to continue to act sensibly so that we keep coronavirus under control.
‘We all know what it takes to do that and if we do then we will see routine operations, the wider range of services, continuing to fire in all cylinders.’
He also said that the NHS will contact people to come forward for vaccinations.