More than 60 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have now been administered across the UK, with over a third of adults having received both doses.
All over 30s are now eligible for vaccines in England as of Wednesday, May 26, as the NHS prepares to extend the rollout to those in their 20s from next week.
Health Secretary, Matt Hancock said: "Our vaccination programme is moving at such a phenomenal pace and I am delighted that less than six months after Margaret Keenan received the first authorised jab in the world, we are now able to open the offer to everyone in their 30s and over.
"The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic and recent data has shown the life-saving protection (that) a second dose of the jab can give, especially against the new variant.
"I urge everyone to come forward when you get the offer and play a part in getting us back to normality."
The government smashed another target in the vaccine rollout, with over 70 per cent of UK adults having received a first dose as of May 26, and four in five people in England aged over 60 are now fully vaccinated.
A total of 38,192,417 people have now received a first dose of the vaccine as of May 26, while 23,228,511 are now fully inoculated (more than one third of adults).
In more positive news for the vaccine, having both doses of vaccines prevents 90 per cent of symptomatic infections, the first real-world data from Public Health England (PHE) has shown. Ministers said the findings showed the “incredible impact” of Britain’s vaccine rollout.
Restrictions were eased further in England on May 17, with people now able to meet indoors under the ‘rule of six’ and two households rule. Indoor hospitality has also reopened under Step Three of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
However, Boris Johnson has said everyone "must play their part" and get a Covid jab, amid concern that the spread of the Indian variant is being fuelled by those who have refused to be vaccinated.
However, ministers have backed down over the reintroduction of local lockdowns to prevent the spread of the variant, following criticism from local and opposition ministers, who accused the government of "local lockdowns by stealth".
A “one shot” jab could be targeted at vaccine refuseniks in areas which see surges in cases, The Telegraph understands.
In order to prevent the spread of the Indian variant, surge testing is being introduced in Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees, Leicester and North Tyneside to prevent the spread of the variant.
Additionally, The Telegraph understands fully vaccinated people will still have to self-isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with someone infected with Covid after June 21, when the last group of restrictions are due to be dropped.
Three vaccines are now in use – Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna – with an expert source saying that they anticipate approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the UK any day, with health officials saying it may be used for “hard to reach” groups.
Under advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) those in their 30s will be offered Pfizer or Moderna, rather than AstraZeneca due to the link with rare blood clots.
Officials said that while the intention is to administer Pfizer or Moderna, it was possible that some of those in younger groups might be offered AstraZeneca on the day, in the event of any delays in supplies.
The same recommendation has been made for pregnant women, who will also be able to access national booking service from Thursday, to ensure they are sent to sites with Pfizer and Moderna.
Currently, around 3,000 people aged 30 and over are being recruited for a clinical trial to see whether a booster vaccine dose could protect people against Covid-19 variants. Mr Hancock announced the news in a press conference on May 19, encouraging people who have received their first dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine in December or January to come forward.
Who will receive the vaccine, and when?
People aged 30 and over are now being offered the coronavirus vaccine, with hopes that those in their early 20s could be reached next week.
The Telegraph has exclusively reported that all over 18s could be offered a first jab of the vaccine by the end of June.
People under 40 will be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine due to the link with blood clots. The Health Secretary has confirmed that the government is currently on track to offer the vaccine to everyone over 18 by the end of July.
JCVI members had previously said that if infection rates were high they would recommend that 30-somethings take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A government source told The Independent that the decision has been allowed due to the flexibility of the vaccines rollout.
"Because prevalence of Covid is low and given the strength of the programme, that means we’re in a position to act with an abundance of caution and offer a different vaccine to the younger groups,” the source said.
The Deputy Chairman of the JCVI has also stated that mixing vaccines could improve protection against coronavirus. Prof Harnden has said that different vaccine types could coalesce to boost the immune system and provide a longer-lasting response.
It comes as Pfizer has asked the UK regulator to approve its vaccine for use in young teenagers as US watchdogs signalled their approval for the step.
The pharmaceutical giant has formally asked the MHRA for permission to use the jab in 12- to 15-year-olds – one of the age groups most responsible for spreading the virus.
Given the organisation’s fast-track review process, it is likely the vaccine would be approved well before the end of July, the point at which the Government aims to have offered a jab to all adults.
Previously, a study by Pfizer suggested that its Covid-19 jab is "100 per cent effective and well tolerated" among children aged 12 to 15.
Mr Hancock confirmed on May 17 that the government had procured enough Pfizer vaccines to inoculate all children over the age of 12. He emphasised that the decision would not be taken lightly, and would be considered over the next two months as the rollout continues.
Phase One of the vaccination programme, which was completed on April 13, involved offering the vaccine to the top nine JCVI priority groups and everyone over 50, estimated to include 32 million people.
Health care workers and adults on the learning disabilities register were also invited to get a coronavirus vaccine, along with over 16s sharing a household with someone who is immunosuppressed.
Adults who are immunosuppressed have a weaker immune system to fight infections naturally and are more likely to have poorer outcomes after contracting coronavirus. This includes those with blood cancer, HIV or those who are having immunosuppressive treatment.
Why is there a delay between the first and second jabs?
Regulators have said the key to success will be to administer two full doses between four to 12 weeks apart, in order to give as many people the initial dose of the vaccine as possible, which offers some protection from the virus.
A study found a single dose of the Oxford vaccine was 76 per cent effective in fending off infection between 22 days and 90 days post-injection, rising to 82.4 per cent after a second dose at that stage. Researchers involved in the trial said the findings support the decision made by the UK to extend the interval between initial doses and booster doses of the shot to 12 weeks.
While a different study found that a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provided a "very high" level of protection from Covid-19 after just 21 days, without the need for a second "top-up" vaccination.
The UEA study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, looked at data from Israel where the vaccine has been rolled out. Scientists found the vaccine becomes 90 per cent effective after 21 days – supporting UK plans to delay the timing of a second jab.
Those who had received the Pfizer jab were 49 per cent less likely to transmit the virus to others in their households, while transmission fell by 38 per cent for those given the AstraZeneca vaccine.
According to data released on May 20 by PHE, a fortnight after the first dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine, the chance of getting symptomatic Covid fell by nearly 60 per cent, with a second dose bringing this up to 90 per cent.
The PHE data examined cases of coronavirus among those aged 65 and over, who were in the first groups to get vaccinated.
While it is not yet known how long immunity lasts beyond 21 days without a second dose, researchers believe it is "unlikely" to majorly decline during the following nine weeks.
Read more: From transmission to efficacy, the Oxford, Pfizer and other Covid vaccines compared
How will I be invited to get the vaccine?
The NHS will contact you when you are eligible for the vaccine and you will be invited to make an appointment.
If you are registered to a GP, you will be contacted by your surgery either over the phone, by text, email or post, in order to book in to receive a vaccine at your local vaccination centre.
You can still register at a GP surgery if you are not already registered to one, and it is advised that you make sure that your contact details are up to date to ensure that there are no delays.
However, if you are over 50 and have still not taken up an offer of the vaccine, the government urges you to contact your GP.
Alternatively, you can check whether you are eligible and find an appointment by using the NHS vaccination booking service.
Three modes of delivery
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there would be “three modes of delivery”, with hospitals and mass vaccination centres along with pharmacists and GPs offering the jab.
In total, 250 active hospital sites, 89 vaccination centres, and around 1,200 local vaccination sites – including primary care networks, community pharmacy sites and mobile teams – have been set up to ensure every at-risk person has easy access to a vaccination centre, regardless of where they live.
Sites across the country, including the ExCel in London, Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester and Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, have been transformed into vaccine hubs and have been administering vaccines from January 25.
The Telegraph has exclusively reported that other large venues, such as Wembley Stadium, could be used as mass vaccination centres in order to stop the spread of the Indian variant.
The Prime Minister has also announced the formation of an ‘antivirals taskforce’, which will be launched with the aim of developing at least two effective treatments for Covid by the end of the year.
What about the new variant of coronavirus? Will the vaccine still protect us?
The emergence of new Covid-19 strains, such as the South African, Indian and Brazilian variants, have threatened to undermine the vaccine and testing gains of recent months.
But vaccines appear to prevent 97 per cent of infections with the Indian variant, real world data suggests, with no known cases of death among those fully vaccinated in the UK.
The Indian variant has spread three times faster than other imported strains, Public Health England figures showed on May 12, and is now dominant in several Covid-19 hotspots in the North West of England.
The strain was escalated to a "variant of concern" by PHE on May 7, based on evidence which suggests it is at least as transmissible as a strain known as the Kent variant.
Bolton, where the so-called Indian variant has been identified, has the highest rate of new Covid-19 cases in the UK. A total of 1,300 new cases recorded in the seven days to May 21 – the equivalent of 452.1 per 100,000 people. This is up from 300.8 the previous week and is the highest since the seven days to November 12.
But Covid-19 hospital numbers in the borough are still less than a third of the peak of the pandemic, according to the leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese.
People queue up to receive vaccinations on a bus in Bolton, which has experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases
Credit: PAUL COOPER
However, the government has been accused of "incompetence" after it has appeared to have stealthily imposed local lockdowns in hotspots of the Indian variant.
People living in Bolton, Blackburn, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside have been told not to travel in and out of the areas, or meet people indoors. The guidance appears to have been updated, without any announcement, on Friday.
Dominic Harrison, the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen, has said that local leaders "were not consulted with, warned of, notified about, or alerted to this guidance".
However, ministers have backed down on these rules, stating that it would “update” the guidance on May 25, insisting it was up to individuals whether to follow it. This has caused critics to label it a "farce".
In response to the rise in the numbers of cases of the Indian variant, the government wants to vaccinate as many as one million people a day as part of a drive to save the British summer, The Telegraph disclosed on May 16.
India has been added to the government’s ‘red list’, which prevents people travelling from the country to enter the UK.
Read more: Fast-spreading Indian variant is main strain in England’s virus hotspots
Mr Johnson did, however, provide promising news on May 19, indicating that current vaccines may be effective against all strains.
Even without the prospect of a deadly new variant which could escape the vaccines currently being used, Mr Johnson said there was a "high likelihood" of a seasonal surge in coronavirus cases in the winter.
In more promising news, vaccines against new coronavirus variants should be ready by October, the team behind the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab said, after The Telegraph revealed that Britain would have the capacity to vaccinate the entire nation against new coronavirus strains within four months, once a new “super-factory” opens this year.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Zahawi revealed over-70s will start to get booster Covid vaccines from September to protect them from new virus variants. The plan will see some people have three doses within the first 10 months of the jabs being in use.
The first booster doses will go to people in the top four priority groups for the original rollout – those aged over 70 as well as frontline NHS and social care workers.
Military labs are to quadruple testing in the battle against Covid variants, it was confirmed on May 5. Ministers have pledged a £30m investment to facilitate weekly testing at the military laboratory Porton Down. This is part of government planning to safeguard the progress of the roadmap out of lockdown and the future of public health moving forward.
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