Army could help with 'massive' vaccine project

The Army could be drafted in to help with the “massive” effort to deliver tens of thousands of Covid-19 vaccines a day.

Solihull Council this week hosted a meeting at which councillors from both the borough and neighbouring Birmingham were briefed on preparations for the mass inoculation of people across the region.

Health chiefs told the joint committee that planning was being ramped up, working on the basis that the jab would be available in the coming months.

Although the Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) was quick to say that no date had been confirmed for when a vaccine would be ready.

While some hold out hope it could be signed-off this side of Christmas, many scientists warn that the roll-out is far more likely to begin in 2021.

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Phil Johns, the CCG’s deputy chief executive, said that administering it would be a “huge” undertaking given that the vaccine was likely to need two doses and could overlap with the usual flu immunisation.

Key challenges would include redeploying staff to manage the job and reassuring the public that the vaccine was safe, given an increasingly vocal “anti-vaxx” movement.

“We are in the preparatory phase of how we work up what we would need to do,” he told councillors.

“At the moment trying to identify the right number of locations and what workforce would be required, and workforce would be a key challenge – we’d have to take a lot of our staff off of their current tasks to be involved in jabbing of patients.”

It is understood the scale of the task would involve 21,000 jabs a day for three months.

Councillor Diana Holl-Allen, who chaired the meeting, asked about reports that members of the Armed Forces would be mobilised to provide extra manpower.

Mr Johns confirmed that RAF personnel were already on the ground assisting with Covid-19 tests in Birmingham and that the military had also been deployed to get the NEC’s Nightingale Hospital up-and-running.

“I’m sure there will be the military assistance in the logistics around this programme again,” he said.

Developing a vaccine is seen as the single most potent weapon in the fight against the virus, with labs around the world in the middle of intensive trials.

Although even once one is found to be both effective and safe, experts have warned it will be many months’ work to get it out to the population.

It is likely high-risk groups will be the priority to begin with and a senior academic at Oxford University has suggested the UK would be unlikely to return to normal until at least July least year.

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