Matt Hancock has said the rollout of the newly-approved Covid-19 vaccine will be “one of the biggest civilian logistical effort we’ve face as a nation”, with conference centres and sports halls being used to administer jabs.
The health secretary added that an initial batch of 800,000 vaccines had been tested on Wednesday and will be ready for deployment by the NHS early next week.
The government is also awaiting the verdict of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on a second vaccine produced by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, with 100 million doses on order.
Describing the news as “a day to remember in a year to forget”, Mr Hancock outlined how the vaccine will be delivered in three different ways, beginning in hospital hubs, then through GPs, local community services and pharmacies.
“Third, we’ll stand up vaccination centres in conference centres and sports venues, for example, to vaccinate large numbers of people as more vaccines come on stream,” he said.
In a Commons statement, the cabinet minister added: “It will be difficult. There will be challenges and complications, but I know that the NHS is equal to the task.
“We will deliver according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity because of the need to hold the vaccine at minus-70 it makes this vaccine particularly challenging to deploy.”
He went on: “We’ve spent months preparing for this day so that as soon as we get the green light we would be ready to go.
“We are the first country in the world to pre-order supplies of this successful vaccine and we have 40 million doses pre-ordered for delivering over the coming months, enough for 20 million people because two jabs are required for each.
“Following authorisation, the next stage is to test each batch of the vaccine for safety and I can confirm that batch testing has been completed this morning for the first deployment of 800,000 doses of the vaccine.”
However, Mr Hancock was unable to tell MPs how many individuals would need to be vaccinated before measures that have restricted people’s lives since the onset of the pandemic in March could be lifted.
Pressed by the shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, he replied: “Of course I understand that not only why he but almost everybody else in the country wants to know the answer to this question – how many people do you have to vaccinate before you can start lifting restrictions?
"The answer to that is while we know that the vaccine protects you as an individual with a 95 per cent efficacy, we do not know the impact of the vaccine on reducing the transmission because of the problem of asymptomatic transmission - which has so bedevilled our response to this virus and made it so hard to tackle. Therefore we don't know the answer to that question.”