High street chains Tesco and Boots have offered to help with the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.
It is believed that Tesco has offered its distribution arm to help with the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine while Boots is opening three Covid-19 vaccination sites, in Halifax, Huddersfield and Gloucester.
The supermarket giant’s subsidiary Best Food Logistics, a food delivery and supply chain specialist, has offered its support, which could include the use of its refrigerated lorries and warehouses to move the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be stored in a fridge.
Covid-19 restrictions, which have shut down many pubs and restaurants, may have opened up some capacity that could be diverted to the vaccine programme.
Boots, the high street chemist, said its three inoculation sites, set up in conjunction with local GP-run clinical commissioning groups, are to open to patients this month and more could be on the way.
A spokesperson told the PA news agency: “Boots has extensive knowledge and experience of mass vaccination having completed over a million flu vaccinations last year, and we have developed a model for Covid-19 vaccination that is aligned with our exceptional safety, clinical and operational standards.
“We stand ready to do much more and our national network of pharmacy expertise is prepped to support the NHS and the government to accelerate the rollout of the vaccine.”
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, told BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that there will be 530,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at about 540 GP vaccination sites and 101 hospital sites on Monday, “on top of the million or so that have already been vaccinated”.
“There are a few millions more Pfizer [jabs] still to be used,” he added. “We are rolling them out as fast as we can.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which needs cold storage of about -70C, was the first jab to be approved in the UK.
Grandmother Margaret Keenan, 90, who on 8 December became the first person in the world to get the vaccination outside of a clinical trial, has now had her second jab.
Pfizer describes itself as one of the largest sterile injectable manufacturers in the world, which has a lot of infrastructure in place, including good inventory and relationships with suppliers.
Of its supplies and inventory in the UK, a Pfizer spokesperson told PA News: “The deliveries are on track and progressing according to our agreed schedule.
“Pfizer has secured inventory and supply commitments in volumes sufficient to meet our production plans for 2021.”
It comes after the UK’s chief medical officers warned on Thursday that vaccine shortage was a “reality that cannot be wished away”.
Rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab began almost a month ago, but second doses of either vaccine will now take place within 12 weeks rather than 21 days as initially planned.
More than a million people have received their first coronavirus vaccination, but in a joint statement England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said the public will “understand” and “thank” them for the plan to give first jabs as a priority, delaying the follow-up vaccination for others.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, who was involved in development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, has suggested that successive governments had left the nation unable to manufacture the vaccine at the pace needed in a pandemic.
A government spokesperson said: “The NHS has a clear vaccine delivery plan and the vaccine is being rolled out as quickly as doses can be supplied and quality checked, with over a million people already vaccinated right across the UK.
“We have long recognised the importance of vaccine manufacturing, having announced an innovation centre in 2018 and invested £93m earlier this year to rapidly accelerate its construction alongside establishing a rapid deployment facility to begin production ahead of the centre opening.”