Matt Hancock has told Britons to “step forward for your country” and get the coronavirus vaccine, as the NHS today started the largest vaccination programme in British history.
“Today marks the start of the fight back against our common enemy coronavirus,” said the health secretary told the Commons this afternoon. “And while today’s the day to celebrate there is much work to be done”.
Hancock said the UK now faces the “Herculean task” of widespread vaccine rollout, as more than 70 hospital hubs around Britain start distributing the Pfizer/Biontech jab to the most vulnerable.
Speaking to the BBC this morning, NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said the vulnerable will likely be vaccinated by “March or early spring”, with the rest of the UK set to be vaccinated by summer 2021.
“People do not need to apply [to get vaccinated], the NHS will get in touch at the appropriate time,” Hancock told MPs this afternoon. “And when that time comes, we have one clear request: please step forward for your country.”
It comes as the NHS prepares to roll out a vaccine media blitz attempting to boost public awareness of the safety of the Pfizer jab.
Ministers are said to be drawing up a list of “sensible” celebrities to endorse the vaccine, in an attempt to quash anti-vaxxer misinformation spreading across the internet.
Hancock today said the government will focus on countering misinformation about the vaccine by pushing “positive information and explaining objectively why the vaccine is safe”.
“It is only with a vaccine that we can finally finally defeat this virus and get life back to normal,” the health secretary said this morning.
NHS briefing papers leaked last week showed that that airline cabin crew and firefighters are being targeted as part of a recruitment drive to build up an army of people to administer the jabs.
Under the slogan “Your NHS needs you”, the recruitment campaign will enlist “tens of thousands” of extra staff to immunise the public and spread positive information about the Pfizer jab, the Guardian reported.
It comes after a survey by market research company Kantar at the end of November found that 75 per cent of people in the UK were “likely” to accept a jab, but only 42 per cent said they would definitely do so, and “the hesitancy is growing”.
Medical experts have estimated that the UK will need at least 60 to 75 per cent uptake for Britain to defeat the coronavirus epidemic.
A government spokesperson told City A.M: “The UK government is committed to combating the spread of false and misleading narratives online. The Rapid Response Unit (RRU) works alongside Government departments, social media platforms and experts to ensure the public has access to accurate information.
“As we edge closer to a vaccine, we will work to quickly anticipate and mitigate any emerging anti-vax narratives.”