Covid-19: Matt Hancock promises Suffolk mass vaccination hub

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image captionMatt Hancock said vaccination figures for the East would "catch up" with other areas of England

A nationally-run coronavirus mass vaccination centre will open in Suffolk "in the next couple of weeks", Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

The total number of vaccination doses given in England to date is 2,371,407, with 236,023 administered in the East compared to 447,329 in the Midlands.

Mr Hancock said two new community sites had opened in Haverhill and Mildenhall.

He told BBC Radio Suffolk that these, along with the mass vaccination centre, would help the county "catch up".

Seven sites around England opened this week for mass Covid-19 vaccinations, with Stevenage being the nearest for people in the East of England.

These mass hubs are regional centres run nationally by NHS England rather than GP-led vaccinations in community settings, or those administered in hospitals and residential care homes.

image captionA mass Covid-19 vaccination centre opened this week in Stevenage

"Each of these big vaccination centres with the really high throughput, they take quite a lot to set up," Mr Hancock, the Conservative MP for West Suffolk, said.

"There will be another 10 next week, 50 in total over the next couple of weeks, including in Suffolk, so it's all coming and we're going to make sure that we get the job done."

Asked by BBC Look East why the centres were not planned ahead of the vaccine roll-out, Mr Hancock said each site had to be "formally approved", with storage conditions and social-distancing to consider, which took some time.

The Department for Health and Social Care said NHS England would announce the locations of the rest of the mass vaccination centres in due course.

The health secretary said: "The numbers [of vaccinations] are a bit lower in the East and the reason for that is the speed at which the different vaccination sites were set up in different parts of the country, and that is now being sorted."

He said there was a national goal that everybody over 70, the clinically extremely vulnerable and NHS health and social care staff, should all be offered a vaccine by 15 February.

"Areas like the east of England as a whole that are behind the national average, we'll accelerate them and catch up," he said, adding that Newmarket would also "get a site" shortly.

Latest Covid-19 figures for Suffolk show that in the week up to 10 January there were just over 3,500 positive cases, a 7% drop compared to the previous week. Only figures in Ipswich had increased.

Mr Hancock said: "It does look like the measures are starting to work and that should give us confidence to redouble our efforts to do what we know is right, and that is to stay at home if at all possible."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has previously called on the government to use the latest lockdown to establish "a massive, immediate, and round the clock vaccination programme" to "deliver millions of doses a week by the end of the month in every village and town, every High Street and every GP surgery".

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