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Most people who have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will start receiving their second jabs in March, the government has said.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio on Monday that many of those who have already had their first coronavirus vaccine dose will receive their second within two months’ time.
The NHS has said it is vaccinating at a rate of 140 jabs per minute and will start testing 24/7 vaccinations in some hospitals in the next 10 days.
However, it also warned that a new COVID-19 patient is being admitted to hospital every 30 seconds.
Zahawi suggested that a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions will not begin before early March, and could initially mean a return to the tiered system.
Watch: Easing of lockdown ‘not before March’
In a separate interview, he told BBC Breakfast: “It will be gradually, 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, after we’ve protected the top four cohorts.”
Zahawi said that once millions of the most vulnerable are vaccinated with a first dose by the middle of February, it takes just a few weeks for their immune response to kick in and offer protection.
The government is currently on track to vaccinate 15 million people across the UK by mid-February, including health and social care staff, the elderly and people in care homes.
Zahawi said: “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.
“That’s 80% of mortality.
“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, i.e. 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.”
He told Times Radio 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 overpromise and underdeliver on this.”
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's lockdown