A job for the army

As we know, the UK government has pledged to inoculate the population, starting with the Pfizer vaccine. On the face of it tremendous news but on closer examination perhaps a more challenging.   Let’s do some basic maths.

There are some 60 million people in the country. Let us estimate, for the sake of argument, that 10 million will choose not to have the vaccine for whatever reason. A mistake I feel but I’m not going to go into the folly of their reasoning at this point. That’s a job for another time.

So 50 million people need to be vaccinated. Inoculation is a two jab process. So we will need 100 million jabs collectively. And these must be kept at -80° C until used. That’s colder than Antarctica during a cold snap. Now hospitals have those kind of freezers but GPs generally do not. So already we have a major logistical problem and we’re not even out of the car park yet. But let’s put that aside. Let’s wave a magic wand and pretend that can be resolved.

100 million jabs to be given. And in what kind of timeframe? Well obviously it can’t be too long – the longer we take the greater the risk of mutation to a resistant strain. So let’s say complete inoculation of the population in just over three months (or 84 to 93 days). Let’s be generous again and round that up to a hundred.

In simple terms we need to perform 100 million inoculations in 100 days. Even I can do that calculation in my head. We have to deliver 1 million jabs per day. That’s every day including weekends.

If I understand this correctly (and the government is a mite evasive about this), we have 70 inoculation venues around the UK. So each vaccination suite must jab a little over 14,000 people every day. Let’s say they are open 10 hours every day (I do like to simplify the mathematics where possible). That means each centre must inoculate 1400 every hour, churning them out every 2.6 seconds. The duration of a Formula One Grand Prix pitstop.

Now think for a moment about when you had your flu jab. Mine took considerably longer than 2.6 seconds. After a quick swab with alcohol, the injection itself and the collection and disposal of the injection paraphernalia into a sharps bin, the procedure took probably two minutes. Again only a ballpark figure. So one nurse takes 120 seconds.

In order for the centres to achieve an inoculation every 2.6 seconds, each will require 69.23 syringe wielding nurses, more if they want tea breaks and a lunch hour. That’s a big ask. Already this is beginning to look like a Carry On film. Not an impossible challenge but certainly daunting. Nationally that’s 4846.1 nurses doing injections and nothing but injections for three months. Repetitive work.

Unless the health service has nearly 5000 spare nurses available for three months to do injections morning till night time for three months, we need to recognise that this will all take a while.

If it weren’t for the fact that it was a global pandemic, we might recruit from other countries – obviously not Europe in the present climate of animosity, but elsewhere perhaps. There must be some countries we haven’t yet antagonised. But either way, the numbers don’t stack up. We are not going to be able to inoculate the UK population in three months.

Of course the government may not be thinking in terms of three months. I suspect, if truth be told, that they are not thinking in terms of any particular timeframe. But they should be. Because every day that passes poses an additional risk of mutation to a more unpleasant and resistant strain. There is no time to lose. The south-east of England is currently under attack from a new strain. Not necessarily more unpleasant (at time of writing) but seemingly more infectious.

The website about vaccination against Covid 19 makes it very clear that we should stay at home and wait to be called. We should not phone our doctors and harass them about our position in the queue. No, it’s a case of don’t call us, we will call you. And there’s probably no need for you to sit staring at the telephone waiting for it to ring. It’s not going to be this week. Or next week or the week after.

I don’t believe it’s beyond this government to find a solution. That is after all why we elect them – to find solutions. We need an immediate workforce of at least 5000 who can be deployed round the country to get the job done. While the government scratches its collective heads, the answer is staring us in the face. This is a job for the armed services. We are fighting a war on the virus so it’s entirely appropriate that the army takes a role here. Give basic training on how to do injections – I mean how difficult can it be – and then it is turn the squaddies loose. These are not idiots. Anyone who can dismantle and reassemble a semiautomatic weapon inside a minute is not going to balk at filling and discharging syringes. And, whatever one thinks about the role of the army in modern life, their grasp of logistics is top-notch. Getting people to places in the right numbers, with a minimum of fuss and in the shortest possible time is what they do best. That is the nature of warfare after all. Three months to save the country? I think they would relish the challenge and there are enough of them.

I can almost see Lord Kitchener staring back at us from the recruitment posters. This could be their finest hour.