The coronavirus vaccination programme will not reduce pressure on hospitals for “many weeks to come”, a top NHS official has warned.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, said he did not expect the rollout to have an impact on the health service until “into February”.
It comes as 10 further mass vaccinations centres in England open from Monday, joining seven existing sites, GP-led surgeries and hospitals already providing jabs.
Speaking to reporters outside of a new vaccination centre in Wembley, north-west London, Prof Powis told the PA news agency: “As the chief executive of the NHS said yesterday, we are in a precarious position at the moment.
“We have a huge demand on the NHS because of Covid infections since Christmas Eve.
“We have seen 15,000 new people being admitted, so that’s well over 20 hospitals’ worth of new patients.
“So it’s really important that everybody sticks to those social distancing guidelines that are in place.
“Because the vaccine programme won’t help us in the NHS for many weeks to come.”
My advice, get the vaccine if you are offered it, but continue to stick to those social distancing guidelinesProfessor Stephen Powis
He said it relied on the public “sticking to the rules”, adding: “That will reduce deaths and of course it will take pressure off hospitals.”
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said on Sunday that a coronavirus patient is admitted to hospital “every thirty seconds”.
The latest data from NHS England shows the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 33,352 as of 8am on Sunday.
This is a small drop on the record 33,362 reported on Friday, but up 8% on a week ago, and up 88% since Christmas Day.
On when he expected the vaccination programme to start to have an impact, Prof Powis said: “It takes a week or two after the first vaccination to start to develop immunity against the virus, so we don’t expect that we will see an impact on the NHS until into February.”
He urged those who have received the vaccine to continue to follow social distancing measures.
“It will stop you getting severe illness but we don’t yet know how good the vaccines are at stopping the transmission of the virus – that is data that will become apparent as more people get vaccinated,” he said.
“So my advice, get the vaccine if you are offered it, but continue to stick to those social distancing guidelines.
“That’s the way we will prevent lives being lost and it’s the way we will take pressure off our hospitals.”