The NHS was accused today of missing a trick after dozens of vaccination centers across the country were found to close for the celebration weekend.
The Adam Smith Institute think tank slammed centers for closing the days when more people could get their first shot because they don’t have a job.
It said ‘the virus is not sleeping’ and so is the UK as it enters a critical phase of the rollout to try to vaccinate everyone over 50 in the next two weeks.
But the NHS hit back, saying that Easter weekend jabs will be distributed “ in accordance with the supply available, ” and most clinics remain open.
A spokesperson said the 1,600 sites in England would be open based on the needs of the local community, but the incentive clinics in London, Berkshire, Norfolk, Derbyshire, Hertfordshire and Merseyside are all closed today and remain closed on Monday.
The NHS insists it is on track to provide jabs to all over 50s and at-risk adults by April 15.
It commended the staff for working so hard during the pandemic and said it was up to local volunteers to decide whether to continue working the holiday.
But critics said the country “can’t afford a delay” and the virus “won’t take a weekend off” or “stop for an Easter egg.”
Jab clinics in London, Berkshire, Norfolk, Derbyshire, Hertfordshire and Merseyside are all closed over the holiday weekend from today through Monday. Pictured: A shop in Debenhams used as a vaccination center in Folkestone, Kent
James Lawson, of the Adam Smith Institute think tank, told MailOnline that vaccination sites should have benefited from the absence of employees over the weekend and were therefore better able to book appointments.
He said: “The vaccination campaign has improved dramatically, but it is disappointing to see some centers slackening before Easter.
‘We are at war with this terrible virus and cannot afford any delay. The virus doesn’t rest, it doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t take a weekend off, and it certainly doesn’t stop for an Easter egg.
‘We have to campaign seven days a week. If anything, we should extend the opening hours of the vaccine center, asking for 24-hour facilities.
‘The holidays would be an ideal place for many people who need a vaccine, but who have difficulties during the week to get off or to get away from work.’
NHS England has previously said it was considering its position on whether it would force all vaccination sites to operate on weekends.
Sonning Common Health Center in Reading and Parkwood Surgery in Hemel Hempstead have both released messages saying they will not be open for jabs from today until Easter Monday.
Meanwhile, the Cornersway Medical Center in Knowsley, Merseyside, said it would close its doors today and Easter Monday.
And Nonsuch Mansion in Sutton, London, confirmed in a special notice on its website that its vaccination center would not be open on Easter Sunday or Monday.
WHERE DO VACCINE SITES CLOSE FOR EASTER?
Nonsuch Mansion, Sutton, London
Closed on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday
Sonning Common Health Center, Reading
Closed from Good Friday to Easter Monday
Parkwood Surgery, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
Closed from Good Friday to Easter Monday
Cornersway Medical Center, Knowsley, Merseyside
Closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday
CCGs in Norfolk and Derbyshire have confirmed that most GP practices are closed all weekend
The NHS said it does not keep records of other sites that may also shut down on weekends
But the NHS does not collect official data on which sites remain open.
A spokesperson for the NHS said: ‘Vaccines are administered over Easter weekend in accordance with the available supply, so it’s a shame the MailOnline seems determined – based on a sample of about one percent of the 1,600 vaccination sites in England – to write a story criticizing the selflessness of volunteers and NHS employees who give up their time during the holiday to ensure that even more of the people most at risk for Covid-19 are protected, in addition to the 26 million people already with have been put into success. ‘
But in February, an NHS primary care bulletin confirmed that it was considering making it mandatory for GP-run vaccination centers to stay open seven days a week.
It said: “ As the Easter weekend is fast approaching, we wanted to confirm that there are currently no plans to reopen all primary care (GP practice, community pharmacy, dentistry and optometry) routinely.
However, we will continue to monitor this position, subject to the changing demands of the pandemic.
Local vaccination services remain the exception, with a seven-day shift where necessary, including holidays. Further announcements about this will follow.
“We are very grateful to those who go to work over the Easter weekend, but hope that everyone can benefit from extra days of rest.”
Statistics from the NHS England up to March 28 showed that up to 93 percent of people over 50 – the last of the priority groups – have now had at least one dose of the vaccine.
But 2.8 million people have yet to get their first shot, and the government’s goal of reaching all top nine priority groups within a few weeks is fast approaching.
It comes after governments in Europe begged local authorities to keep sites open over Easter as the continent faces a third wave of infections.
The Spanish region of Madrid has stopped the Covid vaccinations on Thursday for four days in centers, so that medical staff can rest during the Easter holidays.
The shutdown came as the country struggled to make up for lost time in its national vaccination plan due to a shortage of supply.
Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias last week urged regional authorities to continue to vaccinate over the Easter holidays, saying it was “very important” to continue the vaccination program.
Spain, like other countries of the European Union, has had a surprisingly slow rollout of vaccines that authorities blame for vaccine shortages.
In response to criticism from political opponents, which came about a month before a regional election, Madrid’s regional government said its health centers had ramped up vaccinations earlier this week to make up for the closures.