The Prime Minister hailed developments in Britain’s mass-vaccination efforts after it emerged that the over-70s and clinically extremely vulnerable would be invited to receive their jabs from Monday.
He tweeted: “Today marks a significant milestone as we offer vaccinations to millions more people who are most at risk from Covid-19.
“We have a long way to go and there will be challenges ahead – but together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus.”
Today marks a significant milestone as we offer vaccinations to millions more people who are most at risk from COVID-19.
We have a long way to go and there will be challenges ahead - but together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus. pic.twitter.com/nGZNApxfer
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 18, 2021
Earlier today, Prof Powis told Good Morning Britain that the impact of the national vaccination programme would not be seen on death rates and hospital admissions until “well into February”.
He said infection rates in London had “slowed down” but there was “less of a slowdown” in the rest of the country, adding: “For the next few weeks and into February, it’s really important that everybody sticks to those social distancing guidelines.”
Watch: Ten new vaccination centres open as rollout widens
Meanwhile, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi echoed the NHS director’s warnings.
Mr Zahawi reminded the public that once millions of the most vulnerable are vaccinated with a first dose, it will take a few weeks for their immune response to kick in.
He told BBC Breakfast: “If we take the mid-February target, two weeks after that you get your protection pretty much for the Pfizer BioNTech (jab), three weeks for the Oxford AstraZeneca, (then) you are protected."
He continued: “One of the things that we don’t know yet – and the deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam is on record as saying ‘look give me a couple of months and I’ll tell you’ – is the impact of the vaccine on transmission rates, ie infecting people.
“So, that will become apparent. So there are a number of caveats that, obviously, stand in the way of us reopening the economy.
“It will be gradual, it will be probably through the tiered system, but you’re looking at that sort of period – two to three weeks after the middle of February where we’ve protected those top four cohorts.”
In a separate interview with Times Radio, Mr Zahawi said that by the “first (or) second week of March” there should be “very clear evidence of a sort of a break in the correlation between infection rates and hospitalisation and obviously death”.
He added: “But of course, there are a lot of unknowns, we don’t know the impact on transmission of the vaccines yet.
“There are lots of caveats on this so I don’t want to sort of over-promise and under-deliver on this.”
His assessment came as the chief executive of the NHS Confederation warned that the health service could hit the limit of its critical care beds this week as hospital admissions due to Covid-19 continue to rise.
Speaking to Times Radio, Danny Mortimer praised the determination of critical care staff in tackling the surge in cases, saying: “I think one of the most remarkable things is that our teams have kept going throughout that (winter) period.
“And they refuse to see a point where they aren’t prepared to keep on going anymore.”
But he warned: “I think this next week, we will be at the limit of what we probably have the physical space and the people to safely do.
“And, of course, this is the week when we expect also the highest rate of admissions, the highest demand for the care that we’re providing.”
Mr Mortimer said the NHS now has 5,500 critical care beds, up from 4,000 a year ago, with several hundred more due to become available on Monday.
Watch: COVID-19 - Teachers, shop workers and police could be prioritised in next phase of vaccine rollout
“That’s a sign of both the numbers of people that are coming through, but (also) how really, really ill, how much care and attention, how much help with their breathing, how much damage has been done to people’s internal organs,” he said.
Across the UK, millions of over-70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable can expect to start being invited for a vaccine as the Government expands rollout of the jabs.
More than 3.8 million people in the UK – including over-80s, care home residents, and NHS and social care staff – have already received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but from Monday it will be rolled out to the next two priority groups.
The Government said it would remain the priority to vaccinate those in the first two groups, but that sites which have enough supply and capacity to vaccinate more people will be allowed to offer jabs to the next cohorts.
Ten further mass vaccination centres are opening in England from Monday, including Blackburn Cathedral, St Helens rugby ground, Norwich Food Court and a park-and-ride outside York.
NHS England said they will join the seven existing mass vaccination sites across the country, alongside around 1,000 GP-led surgeries and more than 250 hospitals already providing jabs.