Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said there is a “national duty” to give people confidence to get vaccinated against coronavirus and called for more volunteers to help with the rollout.
Sir Keir is urging members of his own party and trade unions to sign up to assist with administering the vaccine, including in roles such as transporting people to have their jabs, so the country can “get back to a degree of normality”.
Ministers plan to inoculate around 14 million people in the highest priority groups – including the elderly, those with clinical needs, care home residents and staff, and frontline NHS workers – by February 15.
But even the Government’s vaccines tsar Nadhim Zahawi has admitted it will be a stretch to hit the target.
Sir Keir, speaking to broadcasters at a vaccine centre in Newham, east London, called the vaccination drive a “national effort” in which “we all have to put our shoulder to the wheel”.
“It is why we’ve launched this campaign for volunteers to come forward – we’ve got 500,000 members in the Labour Party, we’ve got millions of trade unionists and our campaign today is to say to them: play your part, step up, put aside your differences, we need volunteers,” he added.
“If you look at the set-up here, you’ve got people administering the jab but you’ve also got to get people here, you’ve got to get the information to them, steward them in, and volunteers can do all that.”
The former director of public prosecutions stressed that everyone eligible for a vaccine, including those working in the health and care sectors, should accept one so lockdown restrictions can be lifted.
MPs on Wednesday voted to approve Boris Johnson’s move to put England into lockdown, with the regulations written into law until March 31, on the proviso that they will be reviewed before then.
Stressing the importance of the vaccination effort, Sir Keir said: “This is the way out. This is the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We are in a race. You can see the virus is out of control.
“The infection rates are going through the roof, admissions to hospital are going up, the NHS – and it’s only early January – is really struggling.
“So I think there is a national duty to give confidence to people to have the vaccine and allow us to get back to a degree of normality.”
GPs in England are starting the mass rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in what is seen as a considerable step in the bid to protect the most vulnerable.
The vaccine is easy to administer as it can be stored at normal fridge temperatures – unlike the Pfizer jab which requires storage at minus 70C – and it is hoped that around 1,000 sites will be delivering vaccines by the end of the week.
Sir Keir said it is important that sites awaiting vaccine delivery know how many doses to expect so they can plan and line up suitable patients.
He added: “What I’ve heard here (in Newham) is that they want, above all else, to know how many doses, how many batches they are getting so they can plan into the next few weeks.
“That’s the challenge for the Government. We need to ramp up, we need two million jabs a week – that is a job and a half.
“In order to do that, we need better planning, people need to know when the vaccine is coming.
“That isn’t done in the spirit of criticism. I want this to work and whatever part we can play, we will play it.”