There is to be a “rapid increase” in the number of people who will receive their first Covid-19 jab before the end of March, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said.
He added there was to be a “big uplift” in supply in the coming weeks which will see a surge in people receiving their first dose and many of the highest risk getting their second jab.
He said that the ultimate aim was to get 95% of British adults vaccinated and the offer of a jab was “evergreen” for people who had not yet accepted their invitation.
So far 24,064,182 jabs have been given in the UK, including 1.2 million second doses.
Mr Zahawi told the Women and Equalities House of Commons Committee that until now “supply has been finite” but he was “expecting tens of millions of doses to come through”.
He added: “In the second half of March you will see a big uplift in supply.
“Up until now supply has been finite. We’ve had good volumes but when your supply is finite you have to try and make sure that each region gets enough doses to do the cohort target. So when we were focused on (priority groups) one to four by the middle of February, we have to make sure that each region have that vaccine available to them.
“Now obviously as we see more – and I’m expecting tens of millions of doses to come through – that becomes a little bit easier which allows us, for example, to double the number of pharmacies that will come online for delivery (from 200 to 400).
“The whole country will see a rapid increase in the number of people getting their first dose and getting protected whilst obviously we do second dosing at the same time.”
It comes as:
– Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he is hopeful that people will be able to travel abroad this summer but warned there were no “cast iron guarantees”.
– Greece is making plans to reopen to UK holidaymakers in May.
– Surge testing has been rolled out in some parts of south west London after the South African variant has been found.
– New research suggests that the Kent variant of the virus may be up to twice as deadly as previous strains.
– People are waiting up to six hours in Heathrow’s immigration halls because of the time coronavirus tests are taking to be carried out.
– Analysis of official figures show there has been 147,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has been forced to defend the Test and Trace programme after a damning report concluded that there was “no clear evidence” it had cut coronavirus infections.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson backed the programme, telling MPs: “It’s thanks to NHS Test and Trace that we’re able to send kids back to school and begin cautiously and irreversibly to reopen our economy and restart our lives.”
Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget included an additional £15 billion for Test and Trace, taking the total bill to more than £37 billion over two
But a report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee has called on the Government to justify the “staggering investment” of taxpayers’ money.
Mr Zahawi said that an estimated 94% of the UK adult population had said they were likely or very likely to take up the coronavirus vaccine.
He said: “When I took this job on back in mid-November, I think if you look at the ONS data or other published polls, vaccine positivity was in the high-70s, touching 80%.
“It’s now at 94% of the UK adult population saying that they are likely or very likely to take the vaccine.”
He added: “But in terms of uptake, this is the highest uptake I think in the history of vaccinations or any vaccine deployment in the United Kingdom.”
He added that as each vaccination cohort progresses, efforts will be made to “recontact” those in the previous group who did not take up the offer of a jab.
“In terms of second chance for a jab, the offer is evergreen,” he said.
“In the sense that even if you were hesitant or you didn’t go first time around, the offer is always there for every cohort that is eligible.”
He added that as more data becomes available on transmission, the “narrative” could change to encourage people to take up their jabs to protect their loved ones.
“As we get more and more positive data around the impact of the vaccination programme on transmission, I think that will also play into that narrative, ‘You’re doing it because you’re going to protect your family, your friends, their family and your community’,” he said.
“I think we also have to remember that we’re only a third of the way (through) phase one.
“(We will) keep refreshing and flexing our messaging as we see the evidence emerging so that we do ultimately get to where we all want to get to – which is that sort of 94/95% of the adult population vaccinated.”