There are no plans for 24-hour provision of coronavirus vaccinations because there is “not a clamour” from the public for appointments beyond 8pm, Downing Street has said.
As No 10 said people in their 80s could be asked to drive up to 90 minutes to and from centres to receive Covid vaccinations, officials said so far few people wanted appointments outside the current 8am to 8pm timetable.
Asked why there was no plan for all-day, all-night vaccinations to speed up the process, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said this was because there was no demand.
“If you go and have a chat with the NHS, they will say that when they are asking people who are being offered vaccinations, and they’re asking what time it would suit them, if people say they would love an appointment after 8pm, then that is something that they will consider,” she said.
“My understanding is that, at the the moment, there’s not a clamour for appointments late into the night or early in the morning. If that was the case then it was something the NHS would consider.”
Separately, Johnson’s official spokesman – a separate role to that of Stratton – said that while people might be asked to drive up to 45 minutes each way to one of a series of large regional vaccination centres, they could wait for a more local appointment if needed.
At a Downing Street press conference last week, the prime minister said that by mid-January “it is our plan that everyone should have a vaccination available within a radius of 10 miles”.
But following reports that some people have been asked to travel much farther amid the first wave of vaccinations, which is focused on older people in care homes and those aged 80 or older, Johnson’s spokesman said drives of up to 45 minutes each way were possible.
He said “Those who receive the letter do not have to take one of those appointments if it is too far for them to travel and can wait for a local appointment if they would prefer.”
On the 10-mile target, the spokesman added: “The PM was clear that as we ramp up, that is what we will aim to ensure, but we’re opening the first seven mass vaccination centres this week with more expected to be up and running by the end of the month, and the prime minister has been clear that’s our desire, to try and ensure people don’t have to travel too far for a vaccine.”
This would, he said, involve not just large regional centres, but more GP surgeries and pharmacies offering vaccinations.
Speaking on a visit to a vaccination centre in Bristol, Johnson said the programme had so far vaccinated about 40% of 80-year-olds in the UK, and 23% of the older care home residents, totalling about 2 million people in all.
Speaking to reporters, Johnson said stricter lockdown measures could be needed “if we feel that things are not being properly observed”.