Retired doctors, medical students and other workers who have first aid skills, such as firefighters and police, are being encouraged to train up to administer millions of jabs to protect against coronavirus. Mr Hancock said he expects most of the vaccines will be given next year but he still holds out hope the first doses can be rolled out to the most vulnerable in December. The Health Secretary said the immunisation plan is “one of the biggest civilian projects in history”.
“There is training underway now,” he said.
“We’ve changed the law to change the number of clinically qualified people who can vaccinate because this is going to be one of the biggest civilian projects in history.
“It will be led by the NHS, who have of course the annual experience of a mass vaccination programme in flu, and it will involve GPs, it will involve the broader NHS as well, and hospitals.
“We have got this enormous flu vaccination programme and then the likely big numbers, if it comes off, and I stress the ‘if’, will be next year for a Covid vaccine but we still hold out the hope that we might get some going in December this year.”
A number of vaccines are in the final testing phase and the government is preparing to roll them out as soon as safety watchdogs sign them off.
But as well as training up volunteers to administer, the government is also having to deal with major logistical challenges over transporting and storing the jabs.
At least 42 mass immunisation sites are expected to be opened across England.
Mr Hancock said “deep freezers” were already “stabilising over the last few weeks” ready to hold the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at -70C.
He said the NHS will have “access to any resources of the state they might need” to deliver the jabs.
“I don’t deny that it’s a huge amount of work for the NHS and I’m very grateful for the unbelievable shift they’ve pulled this year and we’ve still got to deliver this this winter,” he added.
“There are of course pressures on the NHS this year – by God there’s pressures, thanks to Covid – and for everybody who works in the NHS I want to say thank you for the work that you are doing.”