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All UK adults aged 50 and over should receive a coronavirus vaccine by the start of May, the Cabinet Office has said.
However, Downing Street dismissed the timetable in the government document – which said the first nine priority groups of people should have been offered a coronavirus vaccine by early May – prompting renewed confusion over the expected date.
Any programme for reopening the economy depends on the speed of what is officially termed phase 1 of the vaccination programme, which takes in the top nine groups by vulnerability to the virus, going as far as all adults aged 50 and above.
No 10 has said only that the target to reach this milestone is “spring”, refusing repeatedly to be more precise.
A Cabinet Office document published on Friday, setting out plans to hold elections in England on 6 May, said phase 1 of the vaccination programme was expected to have been completed before then.
“Our public health response – not least the vaccination programme, which we plan will have reached all nine priority cohorts by May – means that we can commit to go ahead with these polls with confidence,” Chloe Smith, the Cabinet Office minister responsible for elections, said in a foreword to the plans.
But Downing Street sought to disown the date, having deliberately refrained from announcing one. “That does not reflect internal projections,” a No 10 source said.
Over recent days there have been sometimes confusing exchanges at the daily Downing Street media briefing in which reporters have attempted to pin down what ministers mean by spring.
While the expected timetable for people to be offered vaccinations is of great interest to the public, Downing Street has been wary in committing to timetables beyond the target of offering first vaccinations to all older care home residents and staff by the end of January – which was largely met – and to have done the same for the first four most vulnerable groups, as far as those aged 70-plus and clinically extremely vulnerable people, by mid-February.
One reason for caution is the sense inside No 10 that Boris Johnson has previously overpromised in terms of timetables for a return to more normal life.
Another caveat is that while the current speed of vaccinations is sufficiently fast to meet a May deadline – more than 2.5m doses have been delivered in both of the last two weeks – this is dependent on continued supply of the two vaccines.
Source: The Guardian
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