MATT HANCOCK visited a GP surgery to promote the roll-out of vaccines — only to find that it didn’t have any available.
The health secretary was left squirming at Bloomsbury Surgery in central London, where a delivery of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab had been delayed 24 hours until today.
It came as leaders in Birmingham warned the UK’s second-largest city has no stocks of the Oxford vaccine and claimed supplies of the Pfizer version would run out today.
But Boris Johnson had better news for the nation later, when he pledged the army would use ‘battle preparation techniques’ to ramp up the pace of vaccinations.
Speaking at Downing Street, the prime minister said there would be more than 1,000 GP-led sites by the end of next week.
He added they ‘should have the capacity to deliver hundreds of thousands of vaccines per day by January 15 and it is our plan that everyone should have a vaccination available within a radius of ten miles’.
Mr Hancock’s no-vaccine visit laid bare the ‘rate-limiting’ factor medics have complained of, with manufacturer supply the biggest barrier to the roll-out.
The shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the episode was like something from political comedy The Thick Of It, but added: ‘This should be a clear reminder to ministers to move heaven to get vaccinations widely rolled out ASAP.
‘We’re in a race against time and we need to start with 2million jabs a week urgently.’ Ammara Hughes, a partner at Bloomsbury Surgery, said: ‘It’s just more frustrating than a concern because we’ve got the capacity to vaccinate. And if we had a regular supply, we have the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 to 4,000 patients a week.’
In an open letter to Mr Hancock, Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward called for exact data on vaccination numbers in each parliamentary constituency to be shared with local officials. The letter, sent on behalf of Birmingham’s ten MPs, sought ‘urgent clarity and reassurance’ from the minister regarding the roll-out.
A spokesman for the NHS in the Black Country and West Birmingham said, while some primary care trusts were due to get the Oxford vaccine this week, delivery had not been confirmed. But West Midlands mayor Andy Street said there is ‘no threat’ of Birmingham’s supplies running out today and accused Mr Ward and MPs of spreading ‘misinformation’.
Boris Johnson’s TV address followed news the death toll yesterday was 1,162, with a further 52,618 cases.
Meanwhile, the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at a record 28,246 as of 8am yesterday.
The figure — provided by the NHS — is up 24 per cent on last week.
Announcing his plan, which includes vaccinating all care home residents by the end of the month, the PM said 1.5million have already had the jab and some ‘lumpiness and bumpiness’ is to be expected.
‘Today it may be that some GPs aren’t getting the consignments expected. Other GPs are doing an incredible job getting jabs into people’s arms,’ he said.
He was joined by Brig Phil Prosser, head of military support for the roll-out, who said that while his ‘day job’ is organising combat supplies, his teams are used to ‘building supply chains at speed in the most arduous and challenging conditions’.