COVID-19: PM's vaccine target - Offer jabs to everyone in top four priority groups by mid-February

·3-min read

Boris Johnson has outlined the NHS's "realistic expectations" for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks as England and Scotland head into new national lockdowns.

In his TV address on Monday evening, the prime minister said the new rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in the UK means "the pace of vaccination is accelerating".

More than a million people have already been given a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since last month.

Mr Johnson said that by the middle of February he wants everyone in the "top four priority groups" to have been offered a first dose of one of the vaccines - around 13 million people.

Top of the priority list are people who live and work in care homes, followed by people over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers - including NHS staff.

Next on the list are people over the age 75, and the fourth group are people aged 70 and those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

This last group - who are the same as those who have been advised to shield - includes people such as organ transplant recipients and cancer patients.

Mr Johnson said: "If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus.

"And of course that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we've endured for so long."

He also said: "So far we in the UK have vaccinated more people than in the rest of Europe combined."

The minister for vaccine deployment, Nadhim Zahawi, tweeted the government's aim was to administer 13.9 million doses of the vaccines by the middle of February.

Pinning his hopes on the rapid rollout of vaccines to ease restrictions, Mr Johnson acknowledged "how frustrated you are" and that "you have had more than enough of government guidance" - but stressed "now, more than ever, we must pull together".

"The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we're entering the last phase of the struggle because with every jab that goes into our arms we're tilting the odds against COVID and in favour of the British people," he added.

Analysis: We might just have to cross our fingers

By Thomas Moore, science correspondent

The prime minister said the "realistic expectation" of the NHS was that the top four priority groups could receive one dose by mid-February.

That's everyone over the age of 70, care home residents and staff, health and social care workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

My maths suggests that adds up to 13.9 million, though there will be some double-counting of people if they are in more than one group.

That's a tough target to beat.

One million people have so far had the Pfizer jab.

But even though the Oxford vaccine is easier to use, doctors will want to roll it out slowly to start with in case there are any problems that haven't been spotted in the clinical trials.

That means the NHS will have to immunise more than two million people a week later on to stay on target.

Nine out of 10 deaths from COVID are in people over 65, so vaccinating everyone over 70 will in time make a significant difference to the daily statistics.

How quickly that happens will determine how long we live in lockdown. It takes three weeks for immunity to kick in, but by late-February we should see hospital admissions in the elderly starting to fall.

Of course that assumes there are no production problems with the vaccines, that the NHS can deliver on the most ambitious immunisation programme in its history and that there is no new knock-out mutation in the virus.

Cross your fingers.