The vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he is confident the government will hit its mid-February target of giving all the most vulnerable a coronavirus jab after revealing almost 1,000 a minute were delivered on Saturday morning.
He also said the UK was starting to store second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for when it will start having to provide both doses from next month so the pace of the rollout does not slow down.
Zahawi’s comments comes as millions of people under 50 could be vaccinated in a “jabs at work” plan being considered by ministers, according to The Telegraph. When asked about it this morning Zahawi did not deny the reports.
The Treasury is said to be drawing up proposals for a double tax raid on Amazon and other companies who have cashed in on the coronavirus crisis to help plug the black hole in Britain’s finances, according to a front page story in The Sunday Times.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday Zahawi said: "The limiting factor is vaccine supply... the vaccine supply remains finite.
“I can tell you that yesterday between 11 and 12 o'clock we almost got to 1,000 jabs a minute, we got to 979 jabs a minute."
Zahawi added: "I'm confident we'll meet our mid-February target of the top four cohorts, I'm also confident because I have enough line of sight of deliveries that are coming through, that we will also meet the one to nine cohorts by May.
"It's a tough target by the way: many many people who are clinically extremely vulnerable have to be reached by GPs, some can't travel."
Asked if supply issues with manufacturers could see the current pace slow, he replied: "It will vary, no doubt. Vaccine manufacture remains challenging, any manufacturing process has challenges, I'm a chemical engineer by background.
"But as Patrick Vallance said, there's never been a vaccine manufacturing process of a new vaccine without its challenges, but we see better stability now and greater volumes, but they will move around.”
Zahawi also reiterated that the government is not looking at introducing vaccine passports, despite funding being given to UK tech firms to do research in this area.
“We have, as of yesterday, given the first dose to 11.5 million people and what they get is a card from the NHS with their name on it, the date they've been vaccinated with the first dose and the date for their second dose,” he said.
"One, we don't know the impact of the vaccines on transmission, two, it'd be discriminatory.
“I think the right thing to do is make sure people come forward and be vaccinated because they want to rather than it being made in some way mandatory through a passport.
"If other countries require some form of proof then you can ask your GP - your GP will hold the record - and that will then be able to be used as your proof that you've had the vaccine.
"We're not planning to have a passport in the UK."
He added: "There are small start-up technology companies that have had some funding from UKRI [UK Research and Innovation] and Innovate UK who are looking at apps in this area, but we're certainly not looking to introduce it as part of the vaccine deployment programme."
The government has also moved to reassure people that the Oxford vaccine, which is central to the UK's vaccine rollout, will be successful in suppressing the virus even if new variants continue to emerge.
A scientist behind a recent trail conducted in South Africa believes the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be highly effective in reducing severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths in people who catch the South African variant.
Ministers are moving to curb fears of the vaccine rollout being undermined after new study of 2,000 young South Africans, revealed by the FT, suggested that the Oxford jab provided "minimal" protection against less severe and mild forms of the South African variant.
The findings led the South African government to halt the rollout of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Zahawai urged people to keep faith in the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, writing that the country could still “take confidence from the current roll out and the protection it will provide all of us against this terrible disease".
He wrote: "We need to be aware that even where a vaccine has reduced efficacy in preventing infection there may still be good efficacy against severe disease, hospitalisation, and death. This is vitally important for protecting the healthcare system”.
Ministers are also stressing that while the South African variant is the dominant form of the virus in South Africa, it currently accounts for just 147 known cases in the UK.
The government last week launched door-to-door "surge" testing in postcodes across the country where cases of the South African variant of the coronavirus have been found.
Health minister Edward Argar BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning that a "key, key takeaway" from the new research is that there was no evidence to suggest that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine wouldn't be effective in preventing the most serious outcomes: severe illness, hospitalisations and death.
“This is a small study," the minister said.
"It is a 2,000 person sample, average age 31. Yes, it does appear to show on that basis is the vaccine may not be as effective against mild or less severe form of the disease. I caveat it with the fact it’s still only one study."
He referred Andrew Marr's interview with Oxford University's Professor Sarah Gilbert on Sunday, in which she said that with the Oxford jab, "there is still protection against deaths, hospitalisations and severe disease" caused by the South African variant.
Argar said: “Ultimately, that is a key, key takeaway that we all need to remember on this.”
Alain Tolhurst is the chief eeporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. PoliticsHome reporter Adam Payne also contributed to this report.