Boris Johnson has said every person aged over 18 will have been offered a coronavirus vaccination by the end of July, raising hopes of foreign holidays and the return of outdoor events by August.
Unveiling the latest official targets, the Prime Minister confirmed all 45 million people living in England will have been invited to receive their first dose two months earlier than previously promised.
Mr Johnson said: “We will now aim to offer a jab to every adult by the end of July, helping us protect the most vulnerable sooner, and take further steps to ease some of the restrictions in place.
“But there should be no doubt: the route out of lockdown will be cautious and phased, as we all continue to protect ourselves and those around us.”
It comes as Mr Johnson brought forward the target for inoculating all over-50s to Apr 15, meaning that 32m people, accounting for 98 per cent of Covid-19 deaths, will have received some level protection against the disease by the end of April.
The Vaccine Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, previously revealed that the Government’s target to vaccinate the 15m most vulnerable people in the UK with their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine was met on Feb 14.
Following the announcement that the vaccine has been offered to the top four JCVI priority groups, the government said people aged 65 to 69 can now have a Covid-19 vaccine in England.
Mr Johnson said all those aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions would also be contacted, as well as adult carers.
As of Feb 22, a total of 17,723,840 first doses have been administered in the UK, and 624,325 people have received a second dose so far.
In positive news for the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, the World Health Organisation recommended the jab for the over-65s, stating on Feb 10 that the benefits outweighed the risks.
Some 100 Oxford million jabs have been ordered by the Government, with 40 million due to be rolled out by March. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency also approved the Moderna vaccine for use on Jan 8, which will be delivered in the spring.
The Government announced it had ordered an additional 40 million doses of the Valneva jab for delivery in 2022. Large-scale manufacturing has already begun in Scotland, and if approved, it would deliver up to 60 million doses to the UK by the end of this year.
Who is receiving the vaccine first?
Prof Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director of NHS England, called the UK Covid-19 vaccine rollout “two sprints and a marathon”.
The first “sprint” was to vaccinate those in the top four JCVI priority groups, of which the Department for Health and Social Care said had accounted for 88 per cent of Covid-19 deaths so far.
Margaret Keenan, 91, was the first person to receive the Pfizer vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry on Dec 8, and successfully received her second dose on Dec 29. While 82-year-old Brian Pinker was the first person in the UK to be given the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at Oxford University Hospitals’ NHS Foundation Trust on Jan 4.
Following this, those in the over-70s age group and the clinically vulnerable, a total of 5.6 million people, were invited to receive the first dose of the vaccine, as well as NHS workers, care home residents and health and social care workers.
On Feb 14, the Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, revealed that the top four priority groups had been offered a vaccine, and 15 million of the most vulnerable people had now received their first dose.
There will now be another “sprint” to April, when the rest of the priority groups will be given the jab.
All those aged 65 and over (group five) will be contacted next, a total of 2.9 million people, as well as all those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that increase the risk of disease and mortality from Covid-19 (group six).
More than seven million people are in group six, including those with heart conditions, diabetes and severe mental health issues as well as unpaid carers for elderly and disabled.
On Feb 16 after an extra 1.7 million people were added to the shielding list in England, a further 800,000 people were prioritised for a vaccination.
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) is set to make its final recommendations on phase two of the vaccine programme in the coming days.
Senior Whitehall sources have said it would remain based on age, adding that the committee would prefer to maintain “speed and simplicity” rather than change focus onto certain types of professions, which could slow the programme down.
The first group is expected to be all 40-49 year olds, with the remaining cohorts proceeding in similar age ranges.
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.
A 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.
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.
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 70 and have not yet received the vaccine, the government urges you to contact your GP.
Three modes of delivery
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 have been transformed into vaccine hubs and started administering vaccines from Jan 25.
Some of these venues include ExCel in London, Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester and Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey.
Mr Johnson has promised that vaccines would be available to people within 10 miles of their home. For a small number of highly rural areas, the vaccine will be brought to them via mobile teams.
Alongside the three modes of delivery, the Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi has said that there is potential that the vaccine could be administered in the form of a pill.
Receiving a vaccine jab via a pill could help alleviate supply issues that have hindered the rollout in some areas of the world including Europe.
How will the storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine affect the programme?
It was initially thought that the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at -70C to be effective, meaning it can only be delivered to GPs with the facilities to keep it at that temperature.
However, according to latest results, the Pfizer vaccine no longer needs to be kept at super cold temperatures. If approved by regulators, this means the vaccine can be stored in standard medical freezers for two weeks, which will have a significant impact on distribution.
It is understood the vaccine batches are being broken down into doses of 75, in order to give the vaccine to elderly residents and staff in homes with more than 50 beds to avoid wastage.
The Oxford vaccine does not need to be stored in such cold conditions – it can be kept at temperatures between 2C and 8C.
This means it is more mobile than the Pfizer jab and therefore more easily deployed into care homes of varying sizes and into private homes for individual doses.
Will people receive vaccines 24 hours a day?
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that 8am-8pm inoculations will continue for those in the over-80s age group, but as more people in other age groups begin to receive the vaccine, “it becomes much more convenient for people to go late at night and in the early hours”.
Mr Zahawi expected the scheme to be in operation in hospitals around London, and 50 vaccination centres, by February.
Additionally, three hospitals in Birmingham began offering 24-hour vaccinations for health and social staff from the night of Jan 20.
Offering vaccinations overnight will speed up the rollout, and allow the Government to reach their goal of vaccinating 32 million people – 60 per cent of the UK adult population by spring, which was announced on Jan 11.
What about the new variant of coronavirus? Will the vaccine still protect us?
The South African variant and the Brazilian variant have threatened to undermine the vaccine and testing gains of recent months.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is expecting some vaccine tweaks to be needed as it has already begun to look at how quickly an altered jab could be approved, and Matt Hancock has said he is “very worried”.
As of Feb 16, 217 cases of the South Africa Covid-19 variant have been identified in England. Due to some cases not being linked to travel, door-to-door testing will take place in some parts of England.
It was announced on Feb 7 that studies of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab have shown that it does not protect against mild and moderate infection of the South African variant.
However, vaccines against new coronavirus variants should be ready by October, the team behind the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab has said.
On Jan 25, Moderna Inc announced that its vaccine was effective against the Kent and South African variants. Deliveries of the vaccine will take place in the spring.
Britain is also on the brink of approving a fourth coronavirus vaccine, after a jab trialled in the UK was shown to be highly effective against the Kent variant in what the Health Secretary hailed as a “breakthrough”.
Sixty million doses of the Novavax jab have been secured by the UK, which Mr Zahawi was himself injected with as part of the trial, which was shown to be 89.3 per cent effective in preventing coronavirus in participants.
Professor Paul Heath, the Novavax Phase 3 trial chief investigator, said he believed that vaccines could be adapted “at pace” to target new variants of coronavirus after the Novavax jab was found to be effective against the Kent variant.
Crucially, it was shown to be highly effective in preventing infection from the Kent variant which Boris Johnson said on Jan 22 could be up to 30 per cent more deadly than the original.
However, most promisingly, on Jan 16,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.
The government is currently looking to the future, and Boris Johnson has said that elderly and vulnerable people in the UK may have a coronavirus vaccine every year, similar to the roll-out of the annual flu jab.
Have you had the Covid vaccine or are you due to get one? We want to hear from you. Get in touch with us here.