The government has insisted it will work with Royal Mail to ensure postal delays don’t prevent elderly people from having their coronavirus vaccinations.
Two Labour MPs have raised concerns that postal service delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could mean Britons miss out on their jabs.
However, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government will work alongside Royal Mail to ensure hundreds of thousands of appointment letters are sent out on time this week.
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It comes as seven large-scale vaccination hubs were opened on Monday, as the government aims to give COVID-19 jabs to 15 million people by the middle of February.
Zahawi said the UK is aiming to emulate Israel by taking just four minutes to vaccinate each person.
But on Sunday, Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, tweeted: “More than half a million letters inviting people to be vaccinated will be sent in the coming days.
“Royal Mail delays have been so bad – because COVID is knocking out staff – that I am worried about them arriving.”
Streeting’s colleague Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central, tweeted: “Received an email this morning from a very anxious pensioner about this very issue. It’s a real concern and needs addressing.”
Streeting asked the vaccines minister on Twitter if there is a way to prioritise appointment letters, to which Zahawi replied: “We will make sure we work with Royal Mail to ensure this happens.”
A Royal Mail spokeswoman told Yahoo News UK: “In common with most organisations, we have a number of employees who are self-isolating in line with official regulations. This has a direct impact on our staffing levels.
“Deliveries are being made every day and we are working hard to deliver as normal a service as we can, drawing in extra resource where possible.
Wes, We will make sure we work with @RoyalMail to ensure this happens.
— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) January 10, 2021
“Despite our best endeavours, some areas of the country may experience a temporary reduction in service levels due to unavoidable staff absences and essential social distancing measures.”
At the weekend, the BBC reported that many people aged 80 and over had been left confused by NHS letters asking them to travel to vaccination centres many miles away from their homes.
The first 130,000 letters were sent to people in that age bracket who live up to 45 minutes’ drive away from one of the seven new regional vaccination hubs – but many said that was too far.
On Monday, Zahawi said most people currently had “about a 45-minute drive” or less to a vaccination centre, but his aim was to make it so no one in the UK was “more than a 10-mile radius” away.
He told Times Radio he wanted to reach the point where people could simply walk into their community pharmacy or local GP to receive a vaccine.
He said the vaccine rollout could take place 24 hours a day once there are high enough levels of jabs.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we need to go to 24-hour work we will absolutely go 24 hours a day to make sure we vaccinate as quickly as we can.”
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