West Midlands mayor denies Birmingham running out of vaccines

Andy Street accuses local MPs of spreading misinformation

The West Midlands mayor has insisted the region will not run out of the coronavirus vaccine in 24 hours, following concerns about supplies across the country.

Andy Street accused Birmingham MPs, including his Conservative party colleague Andrew Mitchell, of spreading misinformation after they signed a letter claiming the city was due to run out of the vaccine by Friday.

Street said there was “no threat” of Pfizer jabs running out in Birmingham on Friday and that new supplies had been ordered and were in “sufficient supply”.

He said he had been assured by the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, that the city of 2.6 million people will receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday, and added: “The idea that Birmingham will have no vaccines from tomorrow onwards is completely false. Misinformation that causes undue concern is not what the public need in the middle of a pandemic.”

The row came as some GP surgeries said they had faced issues getting the coronavirus vaccine, while others started administering the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab on Thursday.

The deployment comes after the UK daily reported death toll topped 1,000 and London hospitals were said to be on the brink of being overwhelmed.

It is hoped more than 700 sites in England will be delivering vaccines by the end of the week in a mass vaccination drive the prime minister has said is now a race.

GPs have been given instructions to “stand down non-essential work” in order to focus on the delivery of the jabs, the Daily Telegraph reported. Lucy Watson, the chair of the Patients Association, told the newspaper: “For patients to be confident that the NHS remains open for business it would be helpful for there to be clear messages from NHS England about which healthcare activities are being stopped in primary care and which healthcare activities are being continued.”

The Birmingham row erupted following a letter sent to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, by Ian Ward, the city council leader, the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and Labour MP Liam Byrne in which they said the city’s Pfizer stock was due to run out on Friday “with currently no clarity on when further supplies will arrive”.

The letter added: “It remains unclear who is responsible for overseeing the vaccination programme in Birmingham and whom we should hold to account for progress and delivery. I am sure you would agree that such a lack of transparency is unhelpful and frustrating.”

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – with the second jab taking place 12 weeks after the first – is easier to administer as it can be stored at normal fridge temperatures, unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which requires long-term storage at -70C.

Seven mass vaccination centres will open next week in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Surrey and Stevenage.

There were claims GPs have delayed vaccination clinics repeatedly because the delivery of supplies has been inconsistent. Richard Vautrey, who chairs the British Medical Association’s GP committee, told the Times it was “crucial that practices are given greater certainty over delivery date, which then do not change, and as much notice as possible of any potential delays so they can effectively mitigate the impact of rescheduling patients last minute”.

One Bristol medical centre reportedly had its first batch, due on 22 December, cancelled at the last minute. A vaccination site in Rochdale, told to expect more than 1,000 doses this weekend, was then told they would not arrive, the Times reported.

The ad hoc nature of the rollout was highlighted when it emerged that a surgery visited on Thursday by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to promote the initiative had yet to receive promised supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca product.

Standing in front of the Bloomsbury Surgery in central London, Hancock said: “It’s great news this morning that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is from right now being rolled out to GP surgeries across the country.”

But GP Ammara Hughes, a partner in the surgery, told Sky News that its first delivery had been pushed back 24 hours to Friday. She said Hancock was “quite surprised actually to learn that we don’t know when all of our deliveries are coming, they’re very ad hoc”. The surgery was continuing in the meantime to vaccinate with the Pfizer vaccine.

Contributors

Caroline Davies and Josh Halliday

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