Boots and Superdrug start dishing out Covid vaccines

Boots and Superdrug have started dishing out coronavirus vaccines this morning after No10 finally turned to the high street to deliver its lockdown-ending promise of immunising almost 14million people by mid-February.

MailOnline revealed this week that the Boots store in Halifax and Superdrug branch in Guildford, Surrey, would be included in the first wave of high street chemists to join the national effort.

The chains are among six pharmacies across England to be converted into Covid hubs this morning and will be able to administer hundreds of jabs a day between 8am and 8pm.

Vaccines are also being dispensed at Andrews Pharmacy in Macclesfield, Cheshire, Cullimore Chemist in Edgware, north London, Woodside Pharmacy in Telford, Shropshire, and Appleton Village pharmacy in Widnes, Cheshire.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the move was ‘fantastic’ and ‘will make a big difference’ in ramping up the national jab programme, while a Government source said ministers were on track to reach 3million weekly jabs by the start of February and hit the 13.9m target by next month.

The source told the Sun: ‘We’re in a good place and have enough to meet our pledge, with supply continuously improving. We are already vaccinating more than 200,000 a day and are nowhere near capacity. If things go smoothly we could well be doing 400,000 a day — three million a week — by the start of February.’

But Independent chemists who’ve been begging for months to help chip in said they were ‘concerned’ that the target would be missed unless more of England’s 11,500 pharmacies were drafted in. Just 2.5m Brits have been jabbed so far since the national programme launched in early December, a fifth of the 13.9m target by mid-February.

Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told MailOnline: ‘We are relieved to see that six designated pharmacy sites have been given the opportunity this week to administer the Covid-19 vaccine and we’re 100 per cent committed to help NHS England work through any challenges in order to allow many more community pharmacies to play their part.

‘However, as we are yet to see the current vaccination numbers, we are concerned that the target of 13.9m may not be met by mid-February if not many more of the nation’s accessible high street pharmacies, who are reliable healthcare providers are able to offer the vaccine. We want to continue working with the government to enable this vital vaccine to reach all communities, much sooner than they currently are.’

Brenda Clegg, 92, receiving a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine from pharmacist Rae Hynes at the Boots pharmacy in Halifax, West Yorkshire

Patricia Main, 75, receiving a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from pharmacist Bhavika Mistry at the Boots pharmacy in Halifax,

Patricia Main, 75, receiving a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from pharmacist Bhavika Mistry at the Boots pharmacy in Halifax,

The Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Boots pharmacy in Halifax, which was among the first wave of pharmacies to be recruited to help the national effort

The Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Boots pharmacy in Halifax, which was among the first wave of pharmacies to be recruited to help the national effort

Pharmacist Andrew Hudson administers a dose of the coronavirus vaccine to Robert Salt, 82, at Andrews Pharmacy in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

Pharmacist Andrew Hudson administers a dose of the coronavirus vaccine to Robert Salt, 82, at Andrews Pharmacy in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

Andrews Pharmacy was among six high street chemists to start dishing out doses of the jabs this morning

Andrews Pharmacy was among six high street chemists to start dishing out doses of the jabs this morning

But amid reports of manufacturing and supply issues, small chains claim to have still not been contacted about getting involved, even though they claim they have the expertise and local knowledge to be able to significantly bolster the programme.

Those who are eligible for a Covid vaccine will be contacted and invited to make an appointment through the normal NHS booking service. This gives them the option of having a vaccine at their local pharmacy or in a GP-led vaccination centre.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that distribution ‘will be going to 24/7 as soon as we can’ but said supply of doses remained the main sticking point. At the moment the pharmacies will run a 12-hour day operation.

The six pharmacies have been picked because they can deliver large volumes of the vaccine and allow for social distancing, the Government says. Mr Hancock added: ‘Pharmacies sit at the heart of local communities and will make a big difference to our rollout programme by providing even more local, convenient places for those that are eligible to get their jab.’

By the end of the month more than 200 community chemists with capacity for 1,000 doses a week will be able to give vaccines, according to NHS England. The pharmacies join the 200 hospitals, around 800 GP clinics and seven mass vaccination centres where jabs are already being handed out.

Superdrug last week told MailOnline that it had five sites ready to dish out the vaccine, with a spokesperson saying stores in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Guildford and Basingstoke were just waiting on deliveries of the jab. Boots also said it had several sites ready to go from last week. Supply is thought to be the main stumbling block in getting the branches up and running.

The expanded vaccination service in England comes as the daily reported UK death toll reached a new high on Wednesday, with 1,564 fatalities recorded within 28 days of a positive test.

The latest figures meant the grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths involving coronavirus has now been passed in the UK, according to official data.

The Prime Minister warned that hospital intensive care units (ICUs) face being overwhelmed unless coronavirus rates are brought under control, with the latest official figures showing more than 36,000 people are in hospital with coronavirus, including almost 3,500 on ventilation.

He told MPs: ‘If you ask me when do we think that the ICU capacity is likely to be overtopped, I can’t give you a prediction for that.

‘But all I can say is that the risk is very substantial and we have to keep the pressure off the NHS and the only way to do that is to follow the current lockdown.’

Mr Johnson told the Commons Liaison Committee that ‘the situation is very, very tough indeed in the NHS’ and ‘the strain is colossal’ on staff.

The Scottish Government published a 16-page document setting out how it intends to vaccinate 4.5 million people, including 400,000 a week from the end of February.

It set out the supply of vaccine from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna from the start of April that it expects to receive each week.

This angered ministers in London, with a senior Government source warning: ‘Publication of numbers like these risks suppliers coming under pressure from other countries.

‘These vaccines are a finite resource and as we have said throughout – supply is the limiting step.’

Amid the warnings of struggling hospitals, the Government’s top scientist also warned the country is ‘in for a pretty grim period’ of deaths which will not ‘reduce quickly’.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told ITV’s Peston programme: ‘The daily numbers jump around a bit but I think we are in a position now – when you look at the number of infections we’ve had over the past few weeks and how this is likely to continue, so I don’t think they’re going to drop very quickly – that I’m afraid we’re in a period of high death numbers that’s going to carry on for some weeks.

‘It’s not going to come down quickly even if the measures that are in place now start to reduce the infection numbers.

‘So we’re in for a pretty grim period, I’m afraid.’

In his two-hour questioning from a committee of MPs, the Prime Minister also acknowledged concerns about a new strain of coronavirus from Brazil, but stopped short of promising a travel ban on the South American country.

‘We already have tough measures … to protect this country from new infections coming in from abroad,’ he said.

‘We are taking steps to do that in respect of the Brazilian variant.’

Meanwhile, a new study has found that Covid infection provides some immunity for at least five months, but people may still carry and transmit the virus.

The first report from Public Health England’s Siren study found that antibodies from past infection provide 83% protection against reinfection for at least five months.

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