He confirmed ‘that’s when we expect the first batches to be administered’ but added that the whole process would be ‘a marathon, not a sprint’.
Hopson added: “We’re looking forward to the race starting on Tuesday.”
The next task for the NHS is to try to establish how many people over 80 years of age and residents and staff of care homes they can quickly reach.
He said: “Each of those groups has a different set of characteristics in terms of the logistical difficulty of doing the vaccination.”
The vaccine must be stored at -70C, making safely and effectively administering it to large numbers of people a large logistical operation – one of the largest that the NHS has ever undertaken.
Hopson explained: “Think of a large pizza box, is the way that we’re describing it, that’s got to be stored in a fridge at minus 70C. To be frank, the only way you can really do that at the moment is to store them inside NHS hospital hubs.”
He explained that the vaccine can only be transported four times and the two doses must be administered three weeks apart, making the process even more difficult.
He continued: “So, what we’re going to be doing is, hospitals are at the moment talking to care home providers to say how can we get your staff to come into those hospital hubs so we can inject them.
“We are identifying in hospitals how many over-80s do we have, either currently receiving treatment inside the hospital or people who are coming in for outpatient appointments.”
“The bit on the care home residents is more complex because the other thing I haven’t said to you is that these come, the pizza boxes, come in 975 batches.
“And we obviously don’t have care homes that have got 975 residents in them. You tend to have them as 50s, 30s, 60s.
“So what you would need to do is break those 975 pizza boxes into smaller batches, and then the good news is, when we can do that, which we think we’ll be able to do really quite quickly, is we can then ask GPs to go in and administer the vaccine into care home residents.”
Whilst there doesn’t seem to be a target for vaccines administered on Tuesday, he said that ‘clearly as many as possible’ would be ideal, and added that most of the programme would be done in the early months of 2021.