The number of UK vaccination “mega-centres” at locations such as sports stadiums and conference halls will be increased sevenfold in the coming weeks under plans being drawn up by the government.
Boris Johnson has so far announced seven such supercentres at sites including the Excel Centre in London, Millennium Point in Birmingham and Ashton Gate stadium in Bristol.
But the prime minister intends to set up 50 centres as soon as possible, according to Whitehall figures.
Matt Hancock, health secretary, said on Sunday that 2m vaccinations had been given in the UK — including to a third of people aged over 80. He said that the pace of vaccinations would pick up and the government was “on course” to meet its target of delivering 2m vaccinations a week.
“The rate-limiting factor at the moment is supply but that’s increasing and I’m very glad to say that at the moment we are running at over 200,000 people being vaccinated every day,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
The Johnson government has set an ambitious target of vaccinating 14m people by February 15, to cover the four main priority groups set out by scientific advisers, including the over-70s, doctors and care workers. It will publish a delivery plan on Monday on how this will be achieved.
Vaccinations will be available at more than 1,000 general practitioner-led sites, 223 hospitals and seven large facilities by the end of this week. But there are plans to step up capacity even further in the coming weeks, bringing 200 pharmacies as well as the 50 mass vaccination centres into play.
That would take the total number of coronavirus vaccination hubs to about 1,500.
Mr Hancock also said that every adult in the UK will have been offered a coronavirus vaccine by the autumn. “We’ve got over 350m doses on order. They’re not all here yet and we’re rolling them out as fast as they’re delivered. We’re going to have enough for everyone over the age of 18,” he told the BBC on Sunday.
Nigel Watson, chief executive of the Wessex Local Medical Committees, which provides support for general practice doctors, said the government's targets were “eye-watering on one hand, but they’re do-able if we’ve got the vaccine and the workforce to do it.
“The limitations at the moment are the supply of vaccine and the workforce that we’ve got,” he said, adding that “supply is critical”.
To tackle the rapid spread of a new stain of coronavirus, the government will introduce regular rapid testing for asymptomatic key workers. The Department of Health and Social Care has ordered 2m lateral flow tests, which will be deployed by January 15.
The health secretary declined to say whether lockdown restrictions would be lifted in mid-February, when the first review is due. Instead, he suggested they would be gradually lifted before the end of March.