Government set to hit target of offering Covid-19 vaccine to most at risk

Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor
·4-min read

The Government is set to hit its UK-wide target of offering a Covid-19 vaccine to people most at risk by Monday, after England and Wales said those groups had been reached.

NHS England said the top four priority groups in England – people aged 70 and over, care home residents and staff, health and care workers and clinically extremely vulnerable patients – “have now been offered the opportunity to be vaccinated”.

It urged health and care workers who have not accepted a vaccine but would like one to contact their employer who is responsible for arranging their vaccination.

People eligible for a jab can also arrange one through the national booking system – www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination – or by calling 119.

It comes as Government data up to February 11 shows that 14,012,224 people in the UK have now received a first dose of the vaccine.

Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, praised staff for their efforts in reaching millions of people with vaccines.

On a visit to University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust with May Parsons, the nurse who delivered the first vaccination in the world outside of a clinical trial to Maggie Keenan in December, Sir Simon said: “It is thanks to fantastic staff like May that the NHS is delivering Europe’s fastest and largest Covid vaccination programme.

“The whole of the NHS has mobilised to protect the most vulnerable, supported by communities coming together with volunteers, local authorities, the armed forces and local businesses.

“After a year of huge pandemic pressure, it has been a huge and unique team effort that gives us real hope for the future.”

In further developments, NHS England said people aged 65 to 69 can now have a Covid-19 vaccine in England if GPs have supplies.

Some regions of England have already begun vaccinating the over-65s with their first dose after they reached everyone in the top four priority groups.

Meanwhile, in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said some over-50s there have already begun to be contacted and offered a vaccination as the top four groups had been reached.

A Welsh Government spokesman said it was still proactively contacting anyone in groups one to four “who may have changed their minds or may have been ill or may have, for some reason, not been able to take up the appointment”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she expects many in the 65-69 age group to have had their first jab by the middle of this month after the vast majority of older people were vaccinated.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health is offering everyone over 65 a vaccine by the end of February as it works its way through priority groups four and five, though it is expected to help the UK meet its overall target.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
(PA Graphics)

It comes as the reproduction number, or R value, for coronavirus is now estimated to be between 0.7 and 0.9 across the UK.

This is the first time since July that R has been this low, and shows that lockdown restrictions are having an impact and the epidemic is shrinking.

Elsewhere, new data from the Office for National Statistics shows a drop in infections, with around one in 80 people in private households in England having Covid-19 between January 31 and February 6, the equivalent of 695,400 people.

This is down from around one in 65 people for the period January 24 to 30.

The data is based on swab results from people with and without symptoms.

Cumulative Covid-19 vaccinations in the UK
(PA Graphics)

On February 9, the latest date for which figures are available, the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK stood at 25,621.

This is down 35% from a peak of 39,236 on January 18, and is the lowest number since December 29.

But while scientists advising the Government believe cases of Covid-19 are dropping at a decent pace across England, they have warned that infection levels remain high.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls from Tory sceptics to ease the lockdown once the pressure on the NHS eases and deaths drop.

But scientists argue that case numbers are still too high for a significant loosening of restrictions.

They believe that only by driving case numbers to much lower levels can NHS Test and Trace and surge testing work properly.

With low case numbers, clusters of cases can be identified more easily and new mutations to the virus can be picked up, one Government scientific adviser said.

They argued that loosening restrictions when cases are low means there is less chance of R going above 1, which leads to exponential growth of the virus, and this creates a quicker path back to normal life.

The current halving time of the virus (the time it takes to the number of new infections to halve in size) is thought to be at around 14 to 17 days.

Scientific advisers believe that if this continues, aided by the rollout of vaccines, then low case numbers can be achieved in the next two to three months.