More than 15 million people in Britain have now had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, new Government figures show.
Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi today praised the workers and volunteers who helped reach the huge total.
He wrote: “We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase1 the 1-9 categories of the most vulnerable & all over 50s by end April and then all adults.”
Boris Johnson had last month vowed to offer jabs to everyone in the four highest priority groups – over-70s, care home residents and the clinically extremely vulnerable – by Monday. There are thought to be about 15 million people in those groups.
The PM tweeted this afternoon: “Today we have reached a significant milestone in the United Kingdom’s national vaccination programme.
“This country has achieved an extraordinary feat – administering a total of 15 million jabs into the arms of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.”
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The milestone is key to the Government’s lockdown exit strategy for England, with the Prime Minister set to announce his “road map” on February 22. Schools in England are expected to begin reopening from March 8.
The largest vaccination campaign in British history is now moving on to the next priority groups.
NHS England said people aged 65 to 69 can get a vaccine if GPs have supplies, while Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said they had already begun contacting some over 50s.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation identified nine priority groups for the Covid vaccine campaign.
It is estimated the groups represent around 99 per cent of preventable mortality from the virus.
The groups were:
- Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
- All those 65 years of age and over
- Everyone aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
- All those 60 years of age and over
- All those 55 years of age and over
- All those 50 years of age and over
Vaccination centres have been set up in hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacies, and unusual locations such as a Peaky Blinders filming location in Dudley in the West Midlands, a waterpark in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, a former Ikea store in east London, and the 800-year-old Salisbury Cathedral.
Hundreds of armed forces personnel have helped to administer jabs and distribute doses.
Overall, uptake of the vaccine has been high, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) reporting a 93 per cent take-up rate among the over 75s in England.
NHS England previously said the top four priority groups in England “have now been offered the opportunity to be vaccinated”, while Wales said those groups had been reached.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she expects many in the 65-69 age group to have had their first jab by the middle of this month after the vast majority of older people were vaccinated.
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health is offering everyone over 65 a vaccine by the end of February as it works its way through priority groups four and five, although it is expected to help the UK meet its overall target.
On Friday, the Government launched a fresh drive to urge people to accept a vaccine amid continuing reluctance among some groups to have the jab.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped a combination of vaccines and new treatments will mean Covid-19 could be a “treatable disease” by the end of the year.
However, there was concern in Government at the rate of vaccine uptake among some communities – including some ethnic minorities.
Mr Hancock issued a direct appeal to anyone over 70 who has still not had the jab to contact the NHS over the weekend to book an appointment.
The DHSC is now seeking to work with community organisations and charities in England to address the concerns that are making some reluctant to get the jab, while seeking to dispel “myths” circulating on social media.
At the same time it is looking to raise awareness of how the vaccines are being made generally available, especially among ethnic minorities, homeless people, asylum seekers and those with disabilities.
The UK has ordered almost 370 million doses of seven coronavirus vaccines in the biggest and most expensive immunisation programme in history.
Two of those vaccines – one by Pfizer/BioNTech and the other by Oxford University/AstraZeneca – have already been injected into the arms of millions of Britons.
A third, developed by Moderna, has been approved by the UK’s medicines regulator and is due to be distributed in the spring.
The National Audit Office said in December that the UK will spend up to £11.7 billion on purchasing, manufacturing and rolling out vaccines.
Margaret Keenan, 90, was the first person in the UK to be vaccinated against coronavirus.
The grandmother received her first dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech jab at University Hospital in Coventry from nurse May Parsons on December 8, followed by a second dose three weeks later.
Since then, the Government has extended the gap between the first and second dose from three to 12 weeks to vaccinate more people, but the practice has drawn criticism.
All vaccines are required to undergo rigorous testing and have oversight from experienced regulators.
On January 4, dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person in the UK to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
The retired maintenance manager received the vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital.
Meanwhile, Britain could face a coronavirus wave as big as the current one if lockdown restrictions are lifted too quickly, a scientist advising the Government has said.
Professor Steven Riley, a member of the SPI-M modelling group, said that while the rollout of the vaccination programme had been “incredibly successful” it did not mean controls could simply be dropped.
“No vaccine is perfect. We are certainly going to be in the situation where we can allow more infection in the community but there is a limit,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I think scientists are genuinely worried. We don’t want to show that it is an excellent but not perfect vaccine by having another large wave in the UK.
“Nearly 20 per cent of the UK population is 65 years old or older. If you do some simple back of the envelope (calculations) for a vaccine that is very good but not perfect, there is the potential for another really substantial wave. That is not where we want to go in the short term.
“If for some reason we were to choose to just pretend it (coronavirus) wasn’t here any more, then there is the potential to go back to a wave that is a similar size to the one that we are in now.”
His warning came amid continuing pressure from some Conservative MPs for the Government to begin easing controls as more people become inoculated.