An army of 10,000 medics and volunteers has reportedly been drafted in to help deliver Britain’s second Covid inoculation, with the first jabs expected to be administered in days.
Regulators could approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, with Downing Street having already bought 100 million doses in anticipation of a reported January 4 roll out.
It comes after the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm’s boss raised hopes it is more effective than first thought amid the rapid spread of a new mutated strain of Covid-19.
Millions more people across England have been warned they may be thrust into Tier 4 restrictions in a desperate bid to control the variant.
On Christmas Eve, the Department of Health and Social Care said more than 600,000 people had received their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
But with new infections averaging more than 30,000 a day in Britain, rolling out the Oxford vaccine is considered crucial – in part because, unlike the Pfizer alternative, it doesn’t need to be stored at -70C.
A source told the Daily Telegraph: “Tens of thousands of vaccinators and support staff have been recruited.
“At the moment, we are operationalising everything for the 4 January for the first Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs in arms.”
The newspaper added it understands mass vaccination centres are being primed.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot told the Sunday Times he believed researchers had found the “winning formula” using two doses and promised to publish the results.
The claim will come as some relief as cases of the new highly infectious variant of coronavirus, which was first detected in the UK, have been identified in more than a dozen countries with the latest reported in Norway, Madeira and Jordan.
And Chancellor Rishi Sunak praised vaccination efforts so far, telling the Mail on Sunday: “There will be tough days and months ahead, but there are reasons to look ahead to a brighter future and what 2021 promises.
“The early roll-out of vaccines – and the incredible work of our scientists and NHS – means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic.”
But medical unions and Labour criticised the Government’s handling of the programme, which they said had not made enough progress in care homes.
Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association, told the Sunday Mirror the Pfizer/BioNTech roll out was going to be “difficult” but added: “It’s another case of the massive over-promise on something that just cannot be delivered. It’s constant.”
And Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said there was a “race against time” to vaccinate enough people as he urged the Government to avoid what he said were “the same mistakes again” in being “too slow” to protect care home residents – a veiled reference to PPE and hospital discharges.
The current roll-out in care homes has been limited to seven areas, according to the Department of Health.
It added larger care homes with 50 to 70 beds would be prioritised first, with around 2,900 care homes of this size in England.