Starmer raises pressure on government to deliver 24/7 vaccine programme

Sienna Rodgers
© Twitter/@Keir_Starmer

Keir Starmer is increasing pressure on the government to deliver a 24/7 coronavirus vaccine programme and urging Boris Johnson to deploy the country’s 11,500 community pharmacies to help provide it by the end of February.

The Labour leader visited a vaccination centre in Stevenage today, where he called on ministers to “match the nation’s ambition” by aiming for 24/7 to ensure Britain is the first country in the world to fully roll out the vaccine.

His party joined with the TUC to launch a ‘Let’s Vaccinate Britain’ campaign this month, urging Labour members and trade unionists to volunteer with the NHS and promote vaccination within their families and communities.

“This is now a race between the virus and the vaccine,” Starmer said in a televised address to the nation last week. “We were the first country in the world to get the vaccine. Let’s be the first in the world to get our country vaccinated.”

Labour has set out the following plan to reach this goal:

  • 24/7 vaccinations using a wider range of venues, staff and volunteers to deliver two million vaccines per week and increase capacity to four million per week by the end of February.
  • Put the nation’s 11,500 pharmacies at the heart of the roll-out to guarantee vaccines can be delivered on every high street.
  • Harness the resources of local government with councils across the country offering support, and Labour councils already stepping up as part of Labour’s Let’s Vaccinate Britain campaign.

Commenting on the demands, Starmer said: “The whole country wants this roll-out to succeed. We were the first to get the vaccine and if we get this right and pull together, I know we can be the first country to roll it out successfully.

“To do that, the government needs to match the nation’s ambition with a 24/7 roll-out which harnesses all the expertise and dedication our country has to offer. Every high street has a pharmacy and I want to see every possible pharmacy deployed to help.

“Labour will play our part. Labour councils are already stepping up, supporting their communities and making generous offers of support to the government. Across those communities, pharmacists stand ready to play their part too. Let’s use them, and let’s vaccinate Britain.”

According to The Pharmaceutical Journal, 200 sites run by community pharmacies have started to administer the vaccines from this week. Labour says this is just 1.7% of the 11,500 community pharmacies across England.

Shadow Heath Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has highlighted that pharmacies have strong local links and they are “respected and trusted by local people” while arguing that their offers to support the roll-out should be taken up.

Although his spokesperson on Monday said there was “no clamour” for round-the-clock vaccinations, Johnson used Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday to reveal that vaccines would be “going to 24/7 as soon as we can”.

The announcement came despite vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi saying the government should focus on the most vulnerable rather than implement a 24-hour service and health minister Lord Bethell also rejected the idea.

Bethell told the House of Lords: “Even NHS workers do have to sleep. It is impossible to run operations through the night on a mass scale.” The Prime Minister has not so far commented on whether he disagrees with this assessment.

Johnson has committed to vaccinating the top four priority groups comprising 14 million people by mid-February. This would now require the average daily vaccinations figure to reach 378,000, and the weekly figure to be at least 2.65 million.

Labour is also putting pressure on the SNP administration in Scotland, with Scottish Labour’s health and social care spokesperson Monica Lennon saying “the Scottish government has been too vague and too slow”.

“More work is needed to build additional capacity with pharmacists, dentists, optometrists and other healthcare workers to support our GPs, taking account of the pressures they, too, are under,” Lennon added.

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