More than 2.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been given to almost 2.3 million people, the health secretary has said, as an NHS boss warned the jab is “not a free pass” to ignore national guidance.
Matt Hancock told a Downing Street news conference that the government was on track to achieve its pledge of vaccinating the top four vaccine priority groups by the middle of February, a total of 15 million Britons.
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And the new variant, which was first discovered in the UK, makes the fight against COVID “so much harder”, he added.
The priority groups are: care home residents and staff; all those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers; people aged 75 and over; everyone aged 70 and over and individuals classed as extremely vulnerable.
Mr Hancock said the top four priority groups account for 88% of COVID deaths.
And he went on to say almost a quarter of care home residents have received their first dose.
Asked whether the lockdown rules should be toughened, Mr Hancock said people should be focusing on sticking to the current rules “as they are”.
Setting out the four-part plan for rolling out the vaccines, he said the government will focus on supply, prioritisation, expanding the number of sites, and workforce, saying 80,000 people are involved in the effort.
NHS boss Stephen Powis said the vaccine is the “best line of defence we have”, and that there is currently a sprint, there will be another sprint after April, and then a marathon to get everyone else vaccinated by the autumn.
Appearing before MPs earlier, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the aim was to offer a jab to everyone over the age of 50 by the end of April.
The government’s UK Covid-19 Vaccines Delivery Plan says there will be more than 2,700 vaccination sites across the UK, with everyone in England within 10 miles of one by the end of January.
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For those in remote rural areas, the vaccine will be taken to them by mobile teams.
The Department of Health said there will be capacity to deliver “at least” two million jabs per week in England by the end of this month, with staff and residents in care homes offered a vaccine before February.
Workers “delivering key public services”, likely to be a reference to teachers, transport workers and first responders, could be included in the second phase of the vaccine rollout, the plan states.
A workforce of more than 80,000 health workers could be involved in the vaccine plan, the Department of Health added, along with over 200,000 community volunteers who have come forward to help with non-clinical aspects of the programme.
Boris Johnson said earlier that 40% of the people who have been given vaccines so far were over the age of 80.
He also warned that lockdown restrictions in England may need to be strengthened.
Speaking during a visit to a mass vaccination centre in Bristol, Mr Johnson said that now should be the “moment of maximum vigilance, maximum observance of the rules”.
“Of course, if we feel things are not being properly observed, then we may have to do more,” he continued.
“But, far, far better for people to obey the rules that we have, then to simply promulgate new rules.”