Britain prepares for first COVID-19 vaccinations

The Army could be used to help transport further stocks of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from Belgium to the UK, a Foreign Office minister says.

James Cleverly told BBC Breakfast the COVID-19 vaccine was a “top priority product” and the government was looking at non-commercial flight options.

It comes a day before vaccinations are due to begin.

Front-line health staff, those over 80, and care home workers will be first to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In England, 50 hospitals have been initially chosen to serve as hubs for administering it.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a tweet that all parts of the UK now had doses of the vaccine.

ScotlandWales, and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination programmes from hospitals on Tuesday.

Refrigerated containers holding the vaccine doses, which need to be kept at -70C, have been arriving in the UK from Belgium, where it is made, and are being prepared to be moved from secure locations to the hospitals.

Asked whether the armed forces would be used to help transport the vaccine to the UK, Cleverly told BBC Breakfast: “Potentially – we are looking at non-commercial flight options.”

In response to concerns a no-deal Brexit could cause delays in getting the vaccine into the UK, he said: “This is such an important product, it’s probably perhaps the most important product, so we will look to ensure that those supplies are available in the UK in whatever circumstance.”

Asked to confirm if this meant the armed forces would be used if needed, he said: “If we need to.”

The Ministry of Defence said 60 military planners are working with the government’s vaccine task force, with a further 56 personnel helping to construct vaccination centres.

Armed Forces minister James Heappey said around 13 500 military personnel were on “high readiness” – with more than 2 000 deployed so far to help with testing and the government’s COVID response.

It comes as talks between the UK and the EU continue in a bid to reach a post-Brexit trade deal.

Downing Street did not deny that RAF flights could be used to bring supplies of the vaccine over from other European countries if there were problems at ports caused by a no-deal Brexit.

The prime minister’s official spokesman would not comment on specific plans for “security reasons”.

But he said “the military will have a role to play in what’s been an enormous logistical challenge and I’m sure they will continue to do so as we move forward”.

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