Local officials told to keep to vaccine priority list despite variant concerns

·5-min read

Downing Street has urged health officials not to extend the coronavirus vaccine rollout to younger people and to stick to the priority list advised by experts.

There have been calls for those in areas where there are higher rates of the Indian variant of Covid-19 to be offered the jab regardless of their age in a bid to stem the spread of the strain, which is understood to be more transmissible.

Bolton Council has been pushing for those aged 18 and over to be vaccinated, and a councillor deleted a tweet on Saturday in which he claimed “anyone” with a Bolton postcode and registered with a Bolton GP could visit a vaccine bus and get jabbed.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi for the “flexibility to give younger people the vaccine in those parts of London concerned about this strain”.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

But No 10 said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) had advised that the best way to protect against the new variant was to ensure vulnerable groups got their second dose of the vaccine.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This is a decision made by the JCVI about how best to deploy the vaccines we have, but we have deployed thousands more additional doses in Bolton so they can do this work of getting vaccinations to people.”

He said: “We want every part of the country to abide by the advice set out by the JCVI, it’s this unified approach that has allowed us to proceed so quickly with our vaccine rollout.”

Asked whether the Government would cut off the supply to areas which deviated from the rules, he added: “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, we would never do anything that would put public health at risk.”

Elsewhere, Blackburn with Darwen Council initially said on Thursday that it would be offering vaccines to all over-18s from next week, following the increase in cases.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

But later said that, although additional vaccine clinics are being set up, the jab will only be offered to those eligible under current Government guidance.

In Scotland, the NHS in Greater Glasgow and Clyde initially said in a tweet on Sunday that it was contacting those aged between 18 and 39 in the most affected areas to invite them for a vaccine.

However, this has since been deleted.

The authority later said in a statement it was making vaccination appointments available to people aged 18-39 for those living in the affected areas from this week.

It said: “It is likely that these appointments will be available from next week onwards and we would encourage people in the local communities who are eligible for a vaccination to have it.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair told Times Radio there was merit to the idea.

He said: “There are some areas that will be bigger priorities than others, and it’s probably sensible when you go into those areas not simply to vaccinate the at-risk population which is usually the more elderly of the population, but also to make sure that you’re reaching the younger people as well who can spread it.

“So no, I think that taking a more varied approach to the way we do the vaccine rollout at this stage, given the problems and the challenge of Indian variant, is absolutely sensible.”

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Earlier, Professor Adam Finn, from the JCVI, told Sky News he understood the calls to move to younger age groups but said: “The two issues with that are that, first of all, we’re really not quite sure how well the vaccines will interrupt transmission, particularly for this new variant.

“We do know they protect people against getting sick and that’s something we can hold on to and use as a strategy.

“The other thing is that, after a first dose of these vaccines, it does take two to three weeks at least before that protection begins to emerge, so what you do now is not really going to have much influence over what happens over the next couple of weeks.

“So for those two reasons we do need to think strategically about what we do with the vaccine doses that we’ve got at the moment over the next two weeks right around the country, in order to minimise the chances of this new variant causing a very major third wave.”

However Professor Peter Openshaw, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said that it was important to vaccinate people as “fast as possible”, including those under 18.

He told BBC Breakfast that if supply was limited, it should not be taken away from more vulnerable people.

But he added: “In Bolton, it looks like the cases are growing, particularly in those under the age of 45 – in other words, those who have not been vaccinated – so that I suppose is an encouraging signal for vaccination, extending down into those younger age groups is going to be effective in limiting spread.”

He continued: “It does look like we need to roll out the vaccines as fast as possible, and to extend down into the younger age groups who are being infected by this new variant, even those under the age of 18 and in the age range of people still at school.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said supply of doses “remains limited, as it has throughout this process” but added: “There are no specific supply issues.”

He said: “There have been varying reports about what’s going on locally, my understanding is that the areas are sticking to the rules which do allow for some exemptions.”