Britain is about to vaccinate its most vulnerable people against Covid-19 in mid-February and offer a shot to every adult this autumn, with about 2 million people already receiving a first dose, its health secretary said on Sunday.
“In the last week, we have vaccinated more people than in the whole of December, so we are speeding up the launch,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC.
The UK is struggling with growing infections but is sticking to its hopes of rapid immunization to enable life to begin to return to some degree of normalcy in the spring.
Hancock said about 2 million people had already received a first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We have now vaccinated about a third of everyone over the 80s, so [we are making] very, very good progress, he said.
In order for the government to achieve its goal of vaccinating more than 14 million people by mid-February, consisting of over 70s, the clinically vulnerable – elderly or with pre-existing conditions – and health care workers, it must deliver 2 million shots a week .
The current speed is about 200,000 per day, Hancock said.
Queen agrees to the vaccination
Seven mass vaccination centers will open this week, complementing nearly 1,000 surgeries and hospitals that offer shots. Hancock said every adult would be offered a vaccine by the fall.
Queen Elizabeth and her husband Philip, both in their nineties, have been vaccinated, Buckingham Palace said on Saturday.
Queen Elizabeth receives Covid-19 vaccination as Britain reports record deaths
In an effort to speed up vaccinations, the UK government has changed its vaccine guidelines so that a second dose of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines can be administered up to 12 weeks after the first, instead of the three weeks originally planned.
However, Pfizer researchers have warned governments not to be too sure that a dose would provide adequate protection in the long run and say there is no data to show that protection after the first dose is maintained after 21 days.
A highly contagious new variant of the virus is circulating in the UK and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced a third national lock in the UK to try to stop the pandemic before the most vulnerable are vaccinated. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have introduced similar measures.
More than 80,000 people in the UK have died within 28 days of receiving a positive Covid-19 test, the fifth highest official number of deaths globally, and over 3 million people have tested positive.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said on Sunday that national health care in parts of the country was facing “the most difficult situation anyone could remember”.
Hancock does not rule out a tougher suspension, saying he “does not speculate” on further restrictions, although he added that “the vast majority” of people follow current rules.
( Jowharwith REUTERS)