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Britain has given a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine to more than 10 million people, as public health experts call on ministers to target future vaccinations in hotspots where the disease is threatening to run out of control.
Official figures from across the UK’s four nations showed that 374,756 people received a jab on Tuesday, taking the headline total to 10.02 million, less than two months after the programme began.
If the current rate continues, the UK will be on track to give a dose to the 15 million people in the top four priority groups by mid-February, and to complete the remaining five priority groups – another 17 million people – in early April, just after Easter, at the point where the need for second jabs begins.
Boris Johnson praised NHS staff for delivering the vaccine, describing the programme as “the most colossal in the history of our National Health Service”. Nearly 90% of all over-75s in England had already received a jab, the prime minister added.
The latest figures also showed that 1,322 Covid deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, taking the overall number of deaths related to the coronavirus in the UK to 109,335. There were 19,202 more cases reported on Wednesday and 32,851 people are still in hospital. The chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, who joined Johnson at his briefing on Wednesday, said it was too early to see any positive impact from the vaccinations because so many had taken place so recently.
The prime minister also promised he would say “a bit more” in mid-February about future phases of the vaccination programme, including the second wave covering 18- to 49-year-olds without serious medical conditions.
Police, teachers and other key workers have been pressing for priority in the next wave, although the government has refused to give any assurances or timetables. When asked at the Downing Street press conference whether the whole adult population could receive a first jab by May and a second by August, Whitty described that idea as “very optimistic”.
Earlier Matt Hancock, the health secretary, warned there was not enough Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine available to open vaccination centres for 24 hours a day, despite promises last month from Johnson to go “to 24/7 as soon as we can”. “The rate-limiting factor is supply,” the minister said.
GPs said that the pace of the programme – nearly 600,000 people received a first dose on the busiest day so far – had been possible partly because it built on the existing NHS experience in delivering flu jabs for older people every winter.
Some of those involved in the national effort voiced concern about whether nurses, doctors and administrative staff could continue at the current pace for many months at a time, when many were already working seven days a week.
“I worry how sustainable it is,” one London GP said. “It’s not just the doctors, it’s the pharmacists, the administrators who are making this happen.”
NHS insiders said they expected to open “a cohort” of new vaccination centres in the coming days to relieve the pressure on GPs, for which those eligible could book appointments online.
The UK has offered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to about 15% of its population, the largest proportion of any major economy, putting the country in third place worldwide behind Israel (58%) and the United Arab Emirates (38%). Those involved in the programme say refusal rates in the UK have been relatively low.
Public health experts said there was now a case that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should be rolled out faster in hotspot areas after research released on Tuesday suggested it could cut transmission of the virus by two-thirds.
Prof Dominic Harrison, the director of public health at Blackburn with Darwen council, said jabs should now be used to prevent spread of the disease, not just to halt serious illness and death. The effect on transmission was “undoubtedly the best news we have had”, he added.
Sir Richard Leese, the deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, added that his region wanted to speed up the vaccine rollout in more deprived communities, including among black and ethnic minority groups.
“We should be prioritising those people who are most at risk and all the evidence says that people in more economically deprived communities, people from some minority ethnic communities, are more at risk than the general population,” Leese said.
Britain has also been helped by the fact it has more available vaccine than many other countries, because of a deal with AstraZeneca last May to ensure its own supply in the UK.
A lack of supply in continental Europe, caused by an unexpected shortfall in production from the same manufacturer, has meant that the EU is lagging behind, with Germany having vaccinated 3.1% of its population and France 2.4%.
England has completed 8.663m initial vaccinations, Scotland 649,262, Wales 462,497 and Northern Ireland 246,671.
Source: The Guardian
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