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27 Jan 2021 10:31
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  •   Home > News > International

    UK to deploy 24-hour coronavirus vaccination centres as 1,564 COVID-19 deaths sets new daily record

    The new measures are part of an ambitious target to vaccinate 14 million people by mid-February, coming as the United Kingdom sets yet another grim milestone for COVID-19 deaths.

    The United Kingdom will deploy 24/7 vaccination centres in a bid to meet ambitious targets to vaccinate 14 million people by mid-February as promised, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.

    The news comes as the country set another grim milestone, recording 1,564 deaths on Wednesday — the highest daily toll recorded during the pandemic.

    Responding to a question from opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson confirmed the vaccination centre roll-out would happen as soon as possible, but limits on supply were delaying plans.

    "We'll be going to 24/7 as soon as we can and the health secretary will be setting out more about that in due course," he said.

    "At the moment the limit is on supply. We have a huge network — 233 hospitals, 5000 GP surgeries, 200 pharmacies and 50 mass vaccination centres — and they are going exceptionally fast, and I pay tribute to their work.

    "It's thanks to the work of the NHS and to the vaccine taskforce that we have secured more doses per capita than virtually any other country in the world, certainly more than any other country in Europe."

    The UK plans to vaccinate four high-priority groups, totalling 14 million people, by mid-February, but with only 2.6 million people vaccinated since the program begin on December 8, the Government will need more than 2 million vaccinations a week to hit its target.

    Britain is currently rolling out two vaccines, one from Pfizer and the other from AstraZeneca, and on Wednesday AstraZeneca's UK President Tom Keith-Roach told MPs he hoped to be able to expand supply beyond 2 million doses a week as processes were optimised.

    "I expect us to get there very rapidly, and I would say that the middle of February is a conservative position," he told the Commons science committee.

    Wednesday's record death toll — an additional 1,564 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test — came with an additional 47,525 new cases.

    While the majority of deaths reported took place in the past week, some date back to May last year.

    With more than 85,000 deaths, the UK has the highest death toll in Europe and the fifth-highest in the world.

    Debate over delay for second vaccine jab

    Part of the UK's plan to reach its February vaccination targets has included delaying the second shot of the vaccine up to 12 weeks, instead of the initial plan to wait three weeks.

    Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation for Public Health England, said the gap could be delayed even beyond 12 weeks if the data supports doing so, allowing more people across the country to get the first jab sooner.

    "Like we changed the schedule very quickly before Christmas, this is a very fast-moving field, and if more data emerges it may well be that the balance of those first doses, getting more first doses to people is a priority," Ms Ramsay told the science committee.

    MPs were told there was evidence the AstraZeneca vaccine could be more effective with spaced-out doses, but Pfizer has maintained there is no data to support delaying the second shot of its vaccine beyond the recommended 21-day period.

    Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at University College London, told the ABC the decision to delay jabs came about in late December when the new highly-transmissible variant was tearing through the UK.

    He said there was not consensus that the strategy was the right one to take.

    "I've got sympathy with (the government's) view that sometimes in battle you've got to take drastic choices," he said.

    "Many other people really don't agree with that and I can understand that view as well, which says the regulators granted a license on the basis of trials, that were based on 21 days for Pfizer and up to 12 weeks for AstraZeneca.

    "All of our assurances are based on those protocols, so how on earth can we guess or mix and match or just take a punt and say we think it'll be okay?

    "So I can relate to both those views."

    John Moore, the professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University, said the United States had been flirting with the idea of delaying doses but the incoming Biden administration has indicated it does not favour it.

    Neither does the immunology and vaccine-based circle he interacts with.

    "Delaying the interval between the first and second dose too long carries risks and we’re not keen on this," he told the ABC.

    "If it's supposed to be three weeks but it stretches to four or five, no one is going to get bent out of shape about that but extending that to three months — we see risks in this.

    "People can feel protected when they're not in the interval between the first and second doses.

    "And the estimates that have been going around about the extent of protection confirmed by one dose only is viewed over here as pretty dubious and we question the validity of those estimates."

    Australia should push for vaccines rollout: expert

    Despite the struggles to speed up vaccinations in the UK, Professor Altman said Australia should be trying to rollout vaccines as soon as possible instead of deferring it.

    "I don't really understand wait and see because the only certain way I've seen out of this crisis is to get as many people immunised as fast as possible," he said.

    "So I'd be kind of racing to the vaccine centres if I were them."

    Stanley Johnson, the prime minister's father, was lucky enough to receive his second jab last week and said Australia, a place he has visited many times, should get vaccines rolled out as soon as it can.

    "This needs to be done, get it done and count your blessings if you get it done as quickly, as smoothly and as painlessly as I did," he told the ABC.


    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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