Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received his first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
Mr Johnson gave a double thumbs-up to mark the occasion as he was given the jab at Westminster Bridge Vaccination Centre at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London shortly after 6.30pm on Friday evening.
Leaving hospital he told reporters: “I literally did not feel a thing and so it was very good, very quick and I cannot recommend it too highly.
“Everybody, when you get your notification to go for a jab please go and get it. It is the best thing for you, best thing for your family and for everybody else.”
The Prime Minister had previously dismissed concerns it was linked to blood clots, and told the nation it was “safe” at a press briefing on Thursday.
Mr Johnson was treated in the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in April last year after his coronavirus symptoms worsened.
His jab comes as new figures suggest half of adults in England are likely to have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine – making it the first of the four UK nations to pass this symbolic milestone.
A total of 22,337,590 people had been given a first jab as of March 18, according to NHS England.
This is the equivalent of 50.5% of the population of England aged 18 and over, based on the latest estimates by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A separate milestone has been passed in Wales, where one in 10 of the total population is likely to have had both doses of the vaccine.
Latest figures show that 318,976 people in Wales have received two doses, the equivalent of 10.1% of the population.
Meanwhile, countries including France, Germany and Italy began restarting their vaccine programmes with the AstraZeneca jab – reversing earlier decisions to suspend them over blood clot concerns.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said the AstraZeneca vaccine was “safe and effective” and its benefits in preventing Covid-19 hospital admission and death greatly outweighed potential risks.
The EMA has, however, been unable to say definitively that the jab is not linked to “extremely rare” blood clots on the brain, of which there have been 18 reports among millions of people vaccinated.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have said that the jab is safe and have encouraged people to take up their vaccine appointments.
The WHO’s advisory committee on vaccine safety issued a formal statement on Friday saying the vaccine “continues to have a positive benefit-risk profile, with tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world”.
New ONS figures show that around one in 340 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to March 13, down from around one in 270 the week before.
In Wales, around one in 430 people are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to March 13 (down from one in 365), while the figure was one in 315 in Northern Ireland (similar to the week before) and around one in 275 in Scotland, up from one in 320. The current reproduction rate (R) for the UK is 0.6 to 0.9.
Other data shows the UK ended 2020 with one of the highest levels of excess mortality for people aged under 65 among countries in Europe.
Earlier, Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said the UK must keep the South African Covid-19 variant at bay as some European countries report a third wave of infections.
Prof Ferguson, who spurred the UK’s decision to go into lockdown last March, warned that a group of European countries are seeing increasing levels of coronavirus cases.
“Perhaps more concern for the UK though is that some countries are notably seeing a significant fraction, 5-10% of cases, of the South African variant,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“That is the variant we really do want to keep out of the UK.”
A study published on Thursday by Oxford University suggested that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs could struggle against the South African variant and may end up offering limited protection.
Researchers said the South African variant should be the focus of any efforts to create new vaccines that may be needed next winter.
Prof Ferguson said there are “important decisions coming up” with regards to dealing with variants, including how much the ban on international travel is relaxed.
One way of dealing with variants may be through “introducing testing of people coming into the country”, he suggested, but added: “These are policy decisions.”
Professor Robin Shattock, who is working on Covid-19 variants research at Imperial College London, said vaccine supply shortages in April will have some impact on the rollout programme.
He added: “What’s going to have much more of an impact on rollout is that now people are due their second dose… everybody who’s had their single dose will require their second dose.
“It’s unrealistic to imagine the first dose rollout will be as fast because we’ll have to catch up with the second doses.”
The vaccine news comes as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said coronavirus certificates are being considered as a way of getting fans back to larger events “in significant numbers”.
He said ministers were reviewing the possibility of introducing a document providing proof that a person has either been vaccinated against the virus or tested negative.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is leading a review on the “ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects” of a so-called vaccine passport scheme, with the results due to be published by June 21 when all restrictions are planned to be scrapped.