A Basingstoke woman got the chance to put her question to Boris Johnson at tonight’s coronavirus briefing.

Sara asked the prime minister about how the National Health Service would cope with the need for an annual Covid-19 vaccine programme.

In a video message, she asked: “Given the likely need for an autumn Covid vaccine booster and possibly one annually thereafter, how will the NHS cope with the ongoing pressure to vaccinate millions of people quickly on an almost never-ending cycle and be able to resume a more normal health service provision at the same time?”

The prime minister responded briefly to say: “My instinctive answer is to say that the NHS already handles massive vaccination programmes every year such as the flu jab but perhaps Chris or Simon will answer that one.”

Basingstoke Gazette:

The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty responded by outlining why there would be the need for Covid revaccinations.

He said there are two reasons why a person would need to be revaccinated – either immunity was starting to wane or if variants of the disease mean the vaccine is no longer effective.  

He concluded: “I don’t think it should be seen that we’d be having to do something on this scale continuously I think it will be more limited and dependant on how frequently we have to do it.”  

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, added that they would be relying on a network of volunteers to help make the programme possible and said that he hoped in future, pharmacists would be able to assist with vaccinations.  

It comes as the Prime Minister said there were “grounds for confidence” that vaccines were helping to curb the spread of coronavirus, not just in protecting those who received the jab.

Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “Although the vaccination programme is going well, we still don’t have enough data about the exact effectiveness of the vaccinations in reducing the spread of infection.

“We have some interesting straws in the wind, we have some grounds for confidence but the vaccinations have only been running for a matter of weeks.

“While we are learning the whole time, we don’t, as I talk to you today, have all the hard facts that we need.

“And the level of infection remains very high.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the number of people in hospital in the UK with coronavirus is coming down but the “rates are still very high”.

“They are around the point, in fact slightly above the point, which they were at the peak of the epidemic in April last year,” he told the press conference.

“So these are still very high rates but they are definitely heading in the right direction.”

Prof Whitty said death rates remained high but are continuing to go down.

He also stressed that protection from coronavirus vaccines is not immediate, but comes after two or three weeks.

“Then people will have a second vaccine and that’ll strengthen the level of protection and also make it more long lasting – so it is absolutely essential that when people are asked to go back for their second vaccine they do so.”