The rollout Covid-19 vaccines is gathering pace, with seven new mass vaccination sites opening on Monday and high street pharmacy chain Boots starting to offer jabs.
England’s new “super hubs” are spread throughout the country and open their doors after health secretary Matt Hancock pledged on Sunday that every everyone over 18 would be offered a vaccine by autumn.
They are: Ashton Gate in Bristol, Epsom racecourse in Surrey, the Excel Centre where London’s Nightingale hospital is based, Newcastle’s Centre for Life, the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre, Robertson House in Stevenage and Birmingham’s Millennium Point.
Ministers’ first aim is to vaccinate 13.8 million high-priority vulnerable people – including the over-80s, care home residents and health and care staff – by February 15.
But, while health services are currently vaccinating at a rate of 200,000 people-a-day, meeting the government’s vaccination targets means a massive step-change in the rollout over the weeks ahead.
The new mass vaccination centres will be joined later this week by hundreds more GP-led and hospital services, meaning there are more than 1,000 specialist centres, NHS England said.
Meanwhile, Boots said its first vaccination site in Halifax is due to open later this week to offer the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab to the people most vulnerable.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said the sites had been chosen to spread out vaccination availability, adding: “Increasing supplies means the NHS can open even more vaccination services and protect even more people this week.
“While my NHS colleagues are working hard to ensure we can offer vaccines to all of those who would benefit most over the next month, at the same time as providing care for everyone who needs it, we need the public to help us.
“Please don’t contact the NHS to seek a vaccine, we will contact you. When we do contact you, please attend your booked appointments.
It came as Hancock sounded another warning that, despite the vaccine being available, the public must follow the rules.
Saying that the NHS was under more pressure than at any other point in its history, he urged everyone to stay at home, saying “every flex” of the rules “can be fatal”.
The mass vaccine sites will each be capable of delivering thousands of vaccinations each week and could increase their operations according to vaccine supplies and demand, NHS England said.
Some 600 invites were due to be sent over the weekend and this coming week to people aged 80 and above who live up to a 45-minute drive from one of the new centres.
The sites will also vaccinate health and care staff.
Boots said it was offer the vaccine at sites in Huddersfield and Gloucester in the coming weeks.
Seb James, the pharmaceutical firm’s managing director, said: “Our vaccination sites are clean, clinical environments, inaccessible, convenient locations, like high streets, and we have extensive experience in vaccination services, having carried out over a million flu vaccinations in this winter flu season alone.
“We hope to help the NHS and enable more people to get the vaccination quickly.”
Of the almost 1,000 vaccination sites currently open across the country, the NHS said almost 800 are GP-led services which are expected to deliver most of the jabs.