THE first of 530,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs are dished out today — a vital shot in the arm in Britain’s Covid fight.
Boris Johnson pledged to vaccinate tens of millions within three months and said: “We can see how we are going to get out of this with great clarity now.”
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Many primary schools start back after the holidays today but the PM admitted restrictions are “about to get tougher” — with Tier 5 likely on the way.
Five thousand troops will begin “Operation Freedom” — with 530,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs ready to roll out in the war on coronavirus.
Hospitals at six NHS trusts across London, Brighton, Oxford, Morecambe and Nuneaton will be the first to give the vaccine.
It will reach more than 500 GP surgeries and community centres by the end of the week — with PM Boris Johnson saying “we are going as fast as we can”.
Britain has ordered 100million doses of the new vaccine, enough for 50million people.
It can be stored in a fridge making it easier to get into care homes and GP surgeries.
Along with the 40million doses of the Pfizer treatment, we will have enough to protect the entire population.
The Army will play a key role in today’s roll-out with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace hailing its impact.
A total of 21 teams will support seven regions of NHS England in giving the new vaccine. And 800 Army personnel will boost mass testing in Manchester.
The 5,000 total — including 2,000 nethwly deployed this week — will be working in Kent, Kirklees in Yorkshire, across Lancashire and in Swadlincote, Derbyshire.
The PM again backed The Sun’s Jabs Army plea for volunteers to help the operation. And he revealed he and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are working to tear up red tape so retired doctors can inject Brits.
Mr Hancock said: “I’m delighted that today we are rolling out the Oxford vaccine, a testament to British science.
“This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight.”
His comments came as alarming analysis showed 13million — a quarter of England’s population — live in areas with no jab centres ready. And up to eight million face a ten-mile round trip to get to a site.
Bedford, Newark and Braintree — with a combined population of 330,000 — have no sites.
Nottingham, with 335,000 people, has just its main hospital, says the analysis of 697 centres in England.
London, where cases are sky-high, averages eight sites for every million people.
Yesterday 454 people died from Covid, bringing total deaths to 75,024.
Another 54,990 tested positive for the virus — the sixth day in a row numbers have topped 50,000.
Many schools resume today but asked if a Tier 5 was on the cards, the PM said the system is “probably, alas, about to get tougher”.
He added: “Until the vaccine really comes on stream in a massive way, we’re fighting this virus with the same set of tools.”
Former PM Tony Blair said Boris needed a blueprint to vaccinate people as quickly as possible.
He told Times Radio: “We should be aiming to get up to three, four, five million a week.”
The virus is clearly out of control
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the nation should be plunged into a full national lockdown within 24 hours to help stem the tide.
He added: “The virus is clearly out of control and there’s no point the Prime Minister hinting that further restrictions are coming to place in a week or two or three.
“That delay has been the source of so many problems so I say bring those restrictions now, within the next 24 hours.”
Prof Sir Mark Walport, of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: “It is clear we are going to need more.”
And Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, demanded “appropriate restrictions” after hospital admissions shot up since Christmas.
THE SUN SAYS
THERE have been precious few causes for celebration during the long Covid-19 fight but the rollout, from today, of the first half a million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is certainly one of them.
The vaccine is a brilliant example of British scientific expertise, determination and ingenuity in the face of adversity.
It gives hope not just to the people of this nation but to the world.
We should be mightily proud of Prof Sarah Gilbert and her team of vaccinologists, as we are proud of the thousands of Sun readers who have already stepped forward to join our Jabs Army.
It is vital that we get the life-saving vaccines out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and those selfless volunteers stand ready to help in this huge logistical task.
The vaccines are our road to freedom; our means of escape from the tyranny of this dreadful disease.
In the meantime, cases are rising alarmingly and our heroic health workers are under huge pressure.
So there may yet be a need for more and tougher restrictions before we return to the normality that we crave.
But, rest assured, we will get there.
Imperial College London expert Prof Robin Shattock said it was “pretty likely” the festive period and positive vaccine news has probably made people relax.
He added: “They need to make sure they adhere to these precautions because this virus is very transmissible.
“And even though the NHS will move as fast as possible, two million vaccinations a week — if we can get to that level — is still going to be slow to provide the level of immunity that will start to impact on hospital admissions.”
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