By Daniel Holland Local Democracy Reporter

Boris Johnson has addressed hopes of expanding the rollout of the Covid vaccine to more hospitals in the North East.

Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary and Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital are the only two sites in the region currently administering the vaccine.

No hospitals in County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Gateshead or Northumberland have yet been included in the sites giving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to over-80s, care home workers, and NHS staff.

During a visit to Blyth on Friday morning, the Prime Minister said the distribution of the vaccine “had to go quite slowly”, but that he hopes to soon have it in “virtually every hospital”.

Local vaccination services where GPs will administer jabs to care home staff and the over-80s are due to start opening across the country next week.

Asked when the vaccine could be made available to other hospitals in the North East, Mr Johnson said: “I am talking regularly to Simon Stevens at NHS England and he wants to roll it out not just to hospitals but to GP surgeries to try to get the vaccine everywhere we possibly can.

“At the moment we have had to go quite slowly because this is a new vaccine, it needs to be kept at -70C before it is distributed but we are going to be getting it to millions of people over the next few weeks and months.

“We hope to get it into virtually every hospital, but we are happy to expand it as fast as we can.”

Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital and North Tyneside General had been listed as the next hospitals due to get the vaccine after the RVI and James Cook, in a leaked presentation obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service last week.

Mr Johnson added that an expansion of community testing was  “probably the single best thing we can do” to bring down infection rates, due to the amount of time it will take to vaccinate more of the population.

He once again praised Liverpool’s “very effective” citywide testing programme, since when Merseyside was allowed to move out of Tier 3 restrictions into Tier 2 and said that Newcastle was now “doing a big job” setting up community testing plans and that other parts of the North East are also involved.

The Prime Minister added: “Yes it is great that thousands and thousands of elderly people, care workers, NHS people are being vaccinated now every day and the numbers will go up the whole time. But we need to do 12 million people and that it going to take time, at least 12 million people and that it going to take time.

“In the meantime, testing is the best thing people can do.”

Public health bosses in the North East have indicated that they will not be copying Liverpool’s city-wide testing approach, instead working on plans for more specific testing efforts – potentially targeting particular workplaces or religious communities, for example, to identify and stop Covid outbreaks.