Business Secretary Alok Sharma today admitted only 'some' of the 800,000 shots are already in the UK
Fears Britain won't get any more doses of Pfizer/BioNTech's approved coronavirus vaccine before New Year may have prompted officials to bump frontline NHS staff down the queue, with care home residents now expected to begin receiving their jabs within days.
Hopes that an end to the pandemic was in sight were bolstered last night after the first batches of the prized jab arrived in the UK, following No10's 'top secret' operation to transport hundreds of thousands of doses in a fleet of unmarked lorries on the Eurotunnel.
And ministers insisted today that millions of doses will arrive before the end of the year, despite Pfizer last night revealing it will only be able to distribute half of the 100million vaccines it had originally proposed to do in 2020 because of supply chain issues.
BioNTech's chief commercial officer today said Britain - which has ordered 40million doses of the vaccine and hoped to get at least a quarter of its supply by 2020, can expect more shipments to arrive next week.
But questions are now being asked over how much of the vaccine Britain will actually get by the end of the year, with a top NHS official warning the first 800,000 doses that Downing St promised would arrive next week 'could be the only batch we receive for some time'. Business Secretary Alok Sharma today admitted only 'some' of the 800,000 shots are already in the UK.
It comes amid mounting confusion over Downing Street's priority list, with Britain's biggest-ever vaccination drive set to begin on Tuesday. The logistical nightmare of getting the jab to care home residents - who are supposed to be at the very front of the queue - meant NHS staff were inevitably bumped up the pecking order.
But it has now emerged that frontline NHS workers will no longer be prioritised for the vaccine - which Britain has bought 100million doses of after trials revealed it is 95 per cent effective. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the initial supply will still be directed at the elderly and care home staff.
Another hurdle of getting the vaccine into care homes was cleared last night after officials devised a way to split the Pfizer vaccine into small batches suitable for distribution. NHS bosses admitted the ban on pack-splitting was the only thing holding up getting the jab into care homes.
The vaccine currently comes in packs of between 975 and 4,875 doses, which must be used within six hours of being transported - even if kept refrigerated. Many care homes have only dozens of residents, meaning that even the smallest package would be far too many doses and lay hundreds of precious jabs to waste.
Subject to the MHRA's rubber-stamp on splitting packs, health chiefs expect to be able to start rolling it out to care homes within a few days. Scotland's health minister yesterday confirmed care home residents north of the border will start to get vaccines from December 14.
It comes after Donald Trump's top medic today apologised for his blistering and bitter attack on Britain over its world-first approval of a coronavirus vaccine to treat millions of people from Monday. Dr Anthony Fauci backed down in the diplomatic row after he accused the UK drug regulator of failing to adequately scrutinise data from manufacturers.
A truck leaves Pfizer's manufacturing in Puurs, Belgium, yesterday (it is not clear if this was carrying the Covid vaccine, or if it was heading to Britain)