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Coronavirus: Tony Blair calls for millions to be vaccinated in January in ‘radical acceleration’ of programme

Former PM urges government to drop strategy of offering jab to most vulnerable first to instead treat ‘those doing the spreading’

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 23 December 2020 02:04 GMT
Blair called on leaders to use up all of the first batch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in January while a second round is produced
Blair called on leaders to use up all of the first batch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in January while a second round is produced (Getty)

Tony Blair has called for the UK’s vaccination plan to be “altered and radically accelerated” in response to the emerging threat posed by the new variant of coronavirus.

The former prime minister has warned that the timetable for mass vaccination - hoped to be achieved by the spring or summer - would cause “colossal” damage to the nation’s health and economy.

Writing for The Independent, he urged decision makers to speed up approval of new vaccines, including the UK’s leading candidate developed at Oxford University.

And while patients will require two jabs to be fully protected, Mr Blair called on leaders to use up all of the first batch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine next month while a second round is produced.

Whitehall sources believe the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will authorise the vaccine on 28 or 29 December. Britain has ordered 100 million doses, 4 million of which are immediately available.

The former Labour leader added that the first dose will still provide “substantial immunity” and that full effectiveness could follow “a second dose two to three months later – longer than originally thought”.

Such a deployment would mean vaccinating significantly more than 15 million people by the end of January - compared to the 108,000 people inoculated with an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the first six days of its rollout earlier this month.

“We can't eradicate this virus, we have to live with it” he wrote. “It will be with us probably for some years. It may change like the flu, so requiring constant adjustment is our means of combating it - and continuing our current course would mean severe lockdown until vaccination.”

He went on to call on the government to refocus the aim of the vaccine programme from targeting the most vulnerable to one of rapid deployment - ensuring as many people are given a jab as quickly as possible.

“The logic behind age is naturally heightened risk of mortality”, he said.

“But if it is the spread we’re anxious about, then it makes sense to consider vaccinating those doing the spreading, in particular certain occupations or age groups such as students.”

It comes as genomic researchers reveal the new and more infectious variant of Covid-19 thought to be concentrated in the southeast of England has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.

Scientists say the new variant is more transmissible because it “sticks” more easily to receptors in the throat and nose - which preliminary research also suggests is the reason it seems to be more prevalent among children.

Mr Blair went on to urge the government to revisit its logistical plan for a mass rollout of vaccines, ensure better data collection can be used to track the virus and to prepare for the use of so-called “health passports” to help identify those with immunity to the virus.

“I know all the objections, but it will happen. It’s the only way the world will function and for lockdowns to no longer be the sole course of action”, Mr Blair said.

The former Labour leader has spoken up in the past about scaling up the production of therapeutics to help treat the sick and the use of rapid antigen tests to curtail significant spread - with the latter having been previously touted as a path forward by his most-recent successor Boris Johnson.

“This is nothing to do with politics”, Mr Blair added. “I just want the government to succeed in getting on top of this virus. But we cannot afford to get this vaccination plan wrong.”

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