Everyone in the top four priority groups has been offered a coronavirus vaccine, the health secretary has confirmed.
Speaking to Sky News, Matt Hancock said the government had met its target for offering a COVID-19 jab to all over 70s by Monday’s deadline.
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Uptake has been “much higher than we expected”, he said, with more than 90% of over 70s accepting the offer of a vaccine.
In a later interview, the health secretary said the figure among health care staff was “a little bit lower than 90%”, with “around two-thirds” of social care staff and “four-fifths” of NHS staff taking up the offer.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Hancock said the milestone was a “little step towards freedom for us all”, but there was “no rest for the wicked”.
Letters are now being sent to those aged over 65 and the clinically vulnerable to invite them to receive the first dose of a vaccine.
The government is aiming to offer a vaccine to the 17 million in groups five to nine by the end of April, something that will be done alongside administering second doses for many in the first four groups.
“There is a huge programme under way rolling out to invite the next group of people to be vaccinated and, at the same time, from next month we have the second jabs of all the people who have come since January to make sure they happen on time, because they have to be within a specific 12-week time period,” the health secretary said.
“So there is still a huge amount of work to do but we have managed to vaccinate those who are most vulnerable.”
The priority list for vaccines is as follows:
- 1 – Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- 2 – All those aged 80 and over. Frontline health and social care workers
- 3 – All those aged 75 and over
- 4 – All those aged 70 and over. Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
- 5 – All those aged 65 and over
- 6 – All individuals aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
- 7 – All those aged 60 and over
- 8 – All those aged 55 and over
- 9 – All those aged 50 and over
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green told Sky News it was important that the government “redoubles” its efforts to reach those who have yet to come forward for a vaccination.
“We have to have a really big push now to reach out to people who are doubtful, who need some more reassurance,” she told Sky News.
“Until we get [everyone] in these four priority groups, other vulnerable people and eventually everyone else jabbed, we can’t be fully safe.”
Mr Hancock said the number of coronavirus deaths is falling, but it is “too early” to say whether this is a direct result of the UK’s vaccination programme.
“It is too early to be able to measure the direct impact but of course we are looking at that and we can see overall that the number of cases is coming down sharply, the number in hospitals is coming down but it is still too high – at the latest count there were 23,000 people in hospital with COVID,” he said.
The UK’s rapid vaccine rollout has raised hopes of England’s current lockdown – the third of the pandemic – being eased in the weeks to come.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out his plan for relaxing restrictions on 22 February, with the potential for schools to return from 8 March.
More than 60 Conservative backbenchers are said to have backed a letter to the PM from the lockdown-sceptic COVID Recovery Group (CRG), which said there will be “no justification” for restrictions to remain once all over-50s have been offered a jab.
Asked about this backbench pressure, the health secretary said: “Everybody wants to get out of this as quickly as we safely can – both as quickly but also as safely is important. That’s what everyone agrees with.
“The question is a judgment of how quickly and how safely – that’s the judgment we will be making this week, looking at the data ahead of the prime minister setting out the road map on February 22, a week from today.”
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