NHS preparing for 'largest scale vaccination campaign' in UK history

6 December 2020, 06:52

The vaccine will be rolled out on Tuesday in England
The vaccine will be rolled out on Tuesday in England. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

NHS hospitals are preparing to start the first phase of the "largest scale vaccination campaign" in UK history.

The first Covid-19 vaccines will arrive at hospitals by Monday, with the first jabs being administered on Tuesday.

GP surgeries in England have also been told to start staffing Covid-19 vaccine centres by 14 December.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: "Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country's history from Tuesday.

"The NHS has a strong record of delivering large-scale vaccination programmes - from the flu jab, HPV vaccine and lifesaving MMR jabs - hardworking staff will once again rise to the challenge to protect the most vulnerable people from this awful disease."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told The Sunday Telegraph that he "can't wait" to get rid of the three-tier coronavirus restrictions and "get back to living by mutual respect and personal responsibility, not laws set in parliament".

When asked if the distribution of the vaccine beginning this week could mean restrictions end sooner, he said: "Yes, it will."

He added: "There's no doubt that having the vaccine early... will bring forward the moment when we can get rid of these blasted restrictions but until then we have got to follow them."

It comes as the first pictures have been released of freezers packed with coronavirus vaccines in the UK, as each of the four nations prepares to start administering the jabs next week.

Images from Public Health England show specialist Covid-19 vaccine freezers lined up, containing Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses awaiting distribution to the NHS.

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The pictures were taken at a secure location in England and do not include any images of the vaccine vials due to the problems associated with opening the packaging.

The vaccine needs storage temperatures of minus 70C to minus 80C.

Preparations are under way to roll out the vaccine from as early as Tuesday in what has been described as "one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced".

The are a number of operational and logistical steps that need to happen before the vaccine can be administered to the public.

The distribution of vaccine across the UK is being undertaken by Public Health England and the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through systems specially adapted from those used for the national immunisation programmes.

So far, Pfizer has dispatched initial volumes of vaccine from Belgium which has arrived at secure locations in the UK.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said this is followed by a "post-delivery quality assurance process" to ensure the vaccine's quality and integrity has been maintained through transit.

This process, which could take 12-24 hours, is carried out by the specialist medical logistics company, and relies upon information on the shipment temperature data being supplied by Pfizer.

Over the following few days, each box needs to be opened and unpacked manually, and temperature data has to be downloaded from each box, the DHSC said.

There are five packs of 975 doses per box, and only sites with the necessary MHRA licence can split the vaccine packs.

Once all checks are complete, the vaccine will be made available to order by authorised sites in the NHS, with around 50 sites in England so far.

The DHSC pointed out that delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is complex due to it needing to be stored at very cold temperatures and moved carefully, so it will at first will be administered from hospital hubs.

Defrosting the vaccine takes a few hours and then additional time is required to prepare the vaccine for administering.

The DHSC said more than 1,000 local vaccination centres, operated by groups of GPs, will also come online shortly and these will be increased as more vaccines come into the country.

Stage one of the phased rollout of the vaccine will begin when it has been distributed.

"Once we get more vaccine and are able to split the large packs down, we will be able to do both bigger vaccination centres and smaller arrangements through local pharmacies," the DHSC said.