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People under 50 will have to wait a month longer than planned for their Covid vaccination because of a major shortage of vaccine that will start at the end of the month, NHS bosses have admitted.
NHS England told health service chiefs in a letter on Wednesday that the government’s vaccines task force has “notified us that there will be a significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers beginning in the week commencing 29 March”.
As a result all vaccination sites in England have been told to not book anyone under 50 in for their first dose between 1 and 30 April and to concentrate instead on jabbing everyone over 50s and administering second doses.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, who failed to mention the dip in supply during his opening remarks at the Downing Street press conference, said the change would be down to “lumpy” supply and a desire to focus on ensuring all over-50s and vulnerable people were vaccinated before moving on to under-50s.
“Now that we’ve opened up to the 50 and overs, and then we’re going to really focus on getting the vaccine to those who are the most vulnerable, and of course we have a whole load of second doses that we need to deliver,” he told reporters.
“Vaccine supplies are always lumpy and we regularly send out technical letters to the NHS to explain the ups and downs of the supply over the future weeks and [Wednesday’s letter] is a standard one of those letters.”
The letter adds that the shortage means first dose volumes will be “significantly constrained”. The task force predicts this will “continue for a four-week period, as a result of reductions in national inbound vaccines supply”.
But NHS officials reacted with scorn to Hancock’s description. “The letter is unusual,” one said. “It’s a futile exercise for Matt Hancock to try to downplay it.”
The letter was sent on the same day that people aged 50 and over were given the green light to book an appointment to have their first dose. Emily Lawson, the NHS England official in charge of the rollout, and Dr Nikita Kanani, the organisation’s medical director for primary care, sent the letter to the more than 1,500 vaccination sites that are currently administering jabs.
NHS sources privately blamed the task force for the shortage. It was originally set up by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy but recently transferred to Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care. It has been widely praised for enabling the UK to press ahead with deploying vaccines from 8 December, weeks before European countries, by putting in early orders for close to 400m doses of a range of Covid vaccines made by different manufacturers.
But the impending shortage is likely to affect many nations, not just Britain, an NHS official explained. “It’s a global issue. It’s not just us. It’s purely and simply that we aren’t getting through what we thought we were getting through.”
Hancock said the UK was still on course to deliver the target of vaccinating all over 50s by 15 April. “There is enough supply and we have the NHS across the UK ready to be able to deliver on the offer of a vaccine to all over 50s by the 15th of April,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid vaccines for England’s under-50s delayed due to major shortage | World news