The number of doses being administered across the UK has begun to accelerate rapidly with as many as five million jabs likely to be given out this week – more than twice the rate seen in March so far.
On Saturday and Sunday more than 800,000 people received a vaccine against coronavirus, up 33 per cent on the previous weekend. In recent days the amount of vaccine supply available has significantly increased, which allows the NHS in England and devolved health services to boost the number of first doses they give out while ensuring that those who got a jab in December and early January can now access their second dose.
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Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are expecting that, taking first and second doses together, there will be around 400,000 vaccinations done over the course of this week.”
If the other nations of the UK accelerate their own programmes in line with Scotland’s, nearly five million jabs will be given out this week – taking the country past the symbolic milestone of giving a dose to half all those aged 18 or older. The previous record for a single week was around 3.1 million.
The official Government target is to reach all over-50s, and those with underlying health conditions, with at least one vaccine dose by 15 April. In England, the 55-59 age group were invited to get the jab last week and it is likely that a majority have now had the vaccine. The next age group, 50-55, is expected to get the call-up at some point this week. In Scotland and Northern Ireland all over-50s are already eligible to book a vaccination, while in Wales the situation differs depending on local health boards.
Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said: “Most people over the age of 50 will be vaccinated really within the next few weeks – so it is tremendously successful. Those first nine priority groups included 99 per cent of all hospitalisations and deaths, certainly in wave one of the pandemic, so we’re feeling very optimistic. We’re seeing a very sharp reduction in the deaths and hospitalisations throughout the country.”
Most vaccine invitations come either from GPs’ surgeries, which are focussing on contacting patients whose existing conditions make them more vulnerable to Covid-19, or from the national booking service which is proceeding solely on the basis of age.