Tony Blair calls on Britain to vaccinate five million people a week

Former PM urges Downing Street to step up its Covid immunisation campaign

Tony Blair said the UK should aim to inoculate five million people per week as he urged the government to vaccinate people more quickly.

The former prime minister said Britain faced a stark choice between “severe lockdown or vaccination” following a surge in cases blamed on a new coronavirus strain.

Mr Blair said pharmacies and thousands of volunteers should be brought onboard to support the immunisation drive, which he said was the biggest mobilisation of resources in Britain’s peacetime history.

He spoke as The Tony Blair Institute released a new document, 'A Plan for Vaccine Acceleration', which sets out steps to overhaul the UK's vaccines strategy.

Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the Web Summit, in Lisbon, Portugal, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair says Britain’s immunisation drive must be stepped up. Reuters

It claims to have “scrutinised every individual element of the vaccination supply and logistical chain” to make “every possible gain”.

Speaking on Times Radio, Mr Blair said: “Because of this new variant, we need to change our strategy completely in my view.

“And the paper we published today shows how we can get up to three million, I think we could get up to three million a week by the end of January, provided that the vaccines are available, and they should be.

“Not only Pfizer and AstraZeneca but possibly with the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well coming onstream.

“We should be aiming to get up to three, four, five million a week.

“We need to get the entire country under a vaccination programme very, very fast because right now as a result of this new variant, we’ve got a choice between severe lockdown or vaccination. But there isn’t another choice.”

Mr Blair said that until vaccination is “done at scale” across the population, the UK will remain in a strict lockdown.

“If I was the prime minister right now, I would be saying to the team in Downing Street: ‘I need you to give me a plan to get this up to five million [vaccinations] a week’, provided we’ve got the vaccine available and we should have them available.

“I mean AstraZeneca will, not this week or next week but the week after, be able to get up to two million doses a week – that’s just AstraZeneca.

“They could probably do more if they knew that the system was capable of absorbing the amount of vaccines that they would produce.

On the return of primary schools across England, Mr Blair said that unless there was a “step-change” in the vaccination programme, it would be difficult for schools to remain open.

But he said the closure would represent a “disaster” for pupils being kept out of the classroom.

Last month, Britain became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine but frustration has been voiced over the speed of its deployment by the National Heath Service.

NHS England says it has immunised 786,000 people against the Sars-CoV-2 virus since December 8, with vulnerable elderly patients and health and social care workers first in the queue.

Of the jabs provided within this time, 524,439 were provided to people aged 80 years or over, which is two-thirds of the total vaccinations given.

NHS England says it is administering the vaccine at 80 hospitals and 542 community clinics.