A national booking service for vaccine appointments in England will be launched to help hit ambitious targets, Boris Johnson has said, as he pledged to immunise every elderly care home resident by the end of the month.
The prime minister said everyone would be able to get a vaccination within 10 miles of their home and that GP-led vaccine sites providing jabs would increase to more than 1,000 by the end of next week, and hospital sites to 223, delivering hundreds of thousands of vaccines a day by 15 January.
“This is a national challenge on a scale, like nothing we’ve seen before. And it will require an unprecedented national effort,” Johnson told a No 10 press conference. “Of course, we are in a race against time. But I can assure you that we are doing everything we can to vaccinate as many people as possible across our whole UK.”
The announcement followed grim new figures for Covid in the UK, including 1,162 further Covid-related deaths. The only day with a higher death toll by this measure on the government’s dashboard was 21 April, when 1,224 deaths were reported.
In the latest figures announced by Johnson, 1.26 million people have been vaccinated in England, taking the UK total to nearly 1.5 million, which he said was more than all the other countries in Europe put together.
It came as the health secretary warned the public may need to be revaccinated against the coronavirus as often as every six months. Matt Hancock told MPs it was unclear yet how long the protection would last. “I anticipate we will probably need to revaccinate because we don’t know the longevity of the protection from these vaccines,” he told the cross-party health and social care select committee.
“We don’t know how frequently it will be, but it might need to be every six months, it might need to be every year. There is absolutely no doubt that vaccines and testing will still be a feature next year.”
Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, said pressure on the NHS was real and growing. The number of Covid patients in hospital was growing “very, very rapidly”, he said.
“We’ve got 50% more coronavirus in patients in our hospitals now that we had at the peak of the April first wave. And that is true in every region in the country,” he said.
“We’ve seen an increase of 10,000 hospitalised coronavirus patients, just since Christmas Day. That’s the equivalent of filling 20 acute hospitals with extra coronavirus patients. And that is, of course, all happening at what is traditionally the busiest time of year for hospitals and the wider NHS.”
Stevens said that over the next five weeks the NHS was aiming to vaccinate more people than it typically vaccinated over five months during a winter flu programme. He said there were now 80,000 people trained to administer the vaccinations, 18,000 of whom had already begun work in different contexts.
Johnson and Stevens hit out at conspiracy theorists who had filmed in hospitals or protested outside hospitals claiming the pandemic was a hoax.
Johnson said “they need to grow up”, adding: “We’ve all got to do our bit responsibly, to protect it and for a lot of us, that means making sure we stay at home and protect the NHS.”
Stevens said those who made those kinds of statement were putting lives at risk and undermining healthcare staff. “Let’s just be completely straightforward about it. When people say that, it is a lie,” he said.
“If you sneak into a hospital, and see an empty corridor at nine o’clock at night and film that particular corridor, and then stick it up on social media and say: ‘This proves the hospitals are empty, the whole thing is a hoax’ – you are not only responsible for potentially changing behaviour that will kill people, but it is an insult to the nurse coming home from 12 hours in critical care having worked her guts out under the most demanding and trying circumstances.
“There is nothing more demoralising than having that kind of nonsense spouted when it is most obviously untrue.”