Britons as young as 40 could be offered a jab within a few weeks, the Mail can reveal.
Government advisers are set to recommend the next phase of the vaccine rollout continues on the basis of age, rather than prioritising key workers.
But the age brackets will be wider than before – meaning 40 to 49-year-olds are likely to be invited to have a jab once the 32million people in the top nine groups have had their first dose.
Earlier this week it emerged this target could be hit as soon as March 24, if the daily average is maintained.
This would mean the over-40s being invited for a jab in less than five weeks.
It would be a huge boost for Britain’s vaccine programme and could add to the pressure on ministers to ease the lockdown sooner.
Vaccine age bands are set to be widened, with no priority for key workers, meaning that over-40s could get a first does of a Covid jab by the end of March. Pictured: A vaccinator administers an injection of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to a patient at the vaccination centre set up at Chester Racecourse, in Chester, England, on February 15
A graph showing the number of vaccines per day in the UK. Over 16.4 million people have so far received at least one dose in the UK
Care home hugs could be allowed after just one jab
Rules on care home visits could be relaxed within weeks to allow people to hold hands with loved ones.
Care minister Helen Whately indicated yesterday that restrictions could be eased before residents receive their second vaccine dose.
All care home residents and staff in England have now been offered vaccination against Covid, but recipients face a 12-week delay between the first and second shots. Miss Whately said she wants care homes to open up ‘sooner than that’.
She told Sky News: ‘I really, really want to open up visiting in care homes more.
‘What I want to do as we come out of the national lockdown is also increase the amount of visiting.
‘I don’t see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose – I want us to open up sooner than that.’
Miss Whately said any approach would be ‘cautious’ as most residents will only have had their first dose of the jab, but added she was ‘determined’ to make it happen.
‘Even if it’s to be able to hold hands again and see somebody who you haven’t been able to see very much… I really want to make that happen again.’ The minister’s comments, which come days before Boris Johnson announces his ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, are a welcome sign for care home residents and their families.
They follow the Mail’s Christmas campaign to allow relatives to hold their loved ones’ hands once again. Miss Whately warned against rushing measures, saying that the lifting of care home restrictions must occur ‘step by step’.
‘There is still a way to go to see, for instance, whether the vaccine stops people from being infectious and how it plays through,’ she told the BBC.
‘We will, for instance, still be asking people to use PPE and follow those kinds of procedures.’ She stressed: ‘I don’t want to have to wait for the second vaccination dose. Clearly, that’s really important to give care home residents maximum protection but I really want us to be able to open up cautiously and carefully.’
The priority list for the rollout is determined by the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which met yesterday to draft its recommendations for the next phase.
These are expected to be signed off by members today before being sent to ministers to approve at the start of next week.
It is understood that the committee rejected the idea of prioritising key workers or ethnic minorities in favour of a simple age-based approach.
In further encouraging news Public Health England (PHE) said cases were still falling in all regions, while separate figures suggested deaths among the over-80s are down by two thirds in three weeks.
Boris Johnson is due to unveil his roadmap out of lockdown on Monday after a meeting of his ‘Covid O’ committee and data – expected today – on how well the vaccine rollout is working.
The Mail revealed this week that under the current plans, life is unlikely to return to normal until July. That has led to pressure on Mr Johnson to go further in easing restrictions.
In other developments:
- Mr Johnson was set to announce Britain will donate up to three quarters of its surplus vaccines to poorer countries;
- Pubs and restaurants demanded they be allowed to open soon after Easter;
- Holidays to Greece are on the horizon for inoculated Britons after talks began on using ‘vaccine passports’;
- The Justice Secretary suggested firms could refuse to employ people who have not had the Covid vaccine under ‘no jab, no job’ contracts;
- PHE said 147 out of 149 councils saw a drop in their infection rates in the seven days to February 14;
- A minister suggested that care home visits, with people allowed to hold hands, could resume in weeks;
- Dozens of MPs warned Britain was facing a ‘cancer disaster’ that could cost tens of thousands of lives;
- A study suggested the South Africa strain may make the Pfizer vaccine less effective;
- It was announced yesterday that a further 454 people had died and another 12,057 had tested positive for the virus.
The first 15million people to receive the jab were prioritised by five-year age bands, and also included front-line health and social care workers.
The current phase includes everyone over 50 as well as those who have certain underlying medical conditions.
It had been thought this group would all have been offered the first dose by the start of May, but it emerged earlier this week that the target could be hit much sooner – potentially in late March.
Brits could get quarantine-free Greece holidays this summer
Britons could enjoy quarantine-free holidays in Greece this summer as the two countries discuss vaccine passports.
Tourism minister Haris Theoharis said ‘technical discussions are underway’ to enable what Athens hopes will be a ‘semi-normal’ summer for its vital tourism industry. Nearly four million tourists normally visit Greece each year, with British visitors contributing more than £2 billion to the economy.
Mr Theoharis said that a vaccine passport could be used to prove immunity to Covid and allow Britons to fly without also needing to provide a test certificate. The tourism minister told Radio 4: ‘We don’t want to limit travel to those who have been vaccinated but since we are mandating that before travelling someone has to have a negative test result, this is a waste of resources if people are vaccinated to be tested every time they travel, the need for this testing could be limited by the vaccination certificate.’
The issue of who should be prioritised next has been debated for weeks, with many arguing key workers – such as police or teachers – should be offered a jab first.
It has also been suggested ethnic minorities should be prioritised as data from the first wave suggested they were up to twice as likely to die from Covid.
Members of the JCVI are said to be satisfied that those at highest risk within the key worker and ethnic minority groups are already accounted for, due to being ‘clinically vulnerable’ or ‘over 50’.
However, they are believed to have suggested the age brackets could be widened from five years to ten in the next phase.
This is because the difference in death risk between someone aged 30 and someone aged 39 is significantly less than between a 70-year-old and a 79-year-old.
There is therefore no need to segment younger people into such narrow age categories.
Ministers may still take a ‘political decision’ to prioritise teachers and other front-line workers, contrary to the committee’s guidance.
There is a chance some other medical conditions may be added to the priority list, too.
A source said: ‘Members are now close to an agreement on what the next stage of the vaccine rollout programme should look like.’
The Government met its target of offering a vaccine to 15million people in the top four groups by February 15.
England’s Covid vaccine postcode lottery: Parts of London have only jabbed 60% of over-70s… while almost all the elderly living in one Hampshire district have had their first dose (and some areas have done nearly 300x as many top-ups)
- Area with the poorest uptake of the first dose is Westminster, in central London, where jab rate was 60.9%
- Uptake was almost as low in West London, where rate was 67%, and worst 10 areas were all in the capital
- In more promising sign, 114 out of 135 NHS areas in England have vaccinated more than nine in 10 over-70s
by Joe Davies for MailOnline
England’s Covid vaccine postcode lottery was laid bare today after it emerged parts of London have jabbed just 60 per cent of over-70s – while almost every elderly person has had their first dose in one district in Hampshire.
The NHS England statistics, which go up to February 14, also show that some parts of the country have dished out nearly 300 times as many second vaccine doses as others.
The area with the poorest uptake of the first dose was Westminster, in central London, where only 60.9 per cent of residents over 70 have had their first injection. The figure was almost as low in West London, where just 67.5 per cent of people in the age group have been jabbed. The worst 10 areas for uptake were all in the capital.
Health chiefs fear vaccine hesitancy among black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) groups is behind the poorer uptake in London’s culturally diverse boroughs. It follows reports of GP surgeries in London having to close early because not enough people have been turning up to get their injection.
North East Hampshire and Farnham, on the other hand, has given out the most first doses to over-70s in the country, with 99.8 per cent uptake. East Leicestershire and Rutland was second, at 99.3 per cent. Somerset and Sunderland have both also jabbed more than 99 per cent of over-70s with either Pfizer‘s or Oxford University’s vaccine.
While London is being hit hardest by the postcode lottery, overall, uptake across the country appears even. The figures show 114 out of 135 NHS areas in England have vaccinated more than nine in 10 over-70s.
But uptake of the second dose is far more inconsistent, with some areas jabbing up to 300 times as many patients as others. Portsmouth, for example, has seen 14.7 per cent coverage compared to 0.05 per cent in Morecambe Bay, in Lancashire.
Number 10 decided last month to delay the second dose for up to 12 weeks in an attempt to get the first injection to as many Brits as possible, which may partially explain the disparity.
The figures do not take into account health and social care staff or extremely clinically vulnerable younger people, such as those with terminal illnesses, who are both also at the top of the vaccine priority list. Instead, they look solely at over-70s, who are most at risk of dying from the illness.
Britain has already vaccinated more than 16million Britons and ministers have pledged to dish out jabs to all 32million Britons in the top nine groups by April. With the Government taking a cautious approach to easing lockdown this time around, it is widely accepted that all of the nine top vulnerable groups will need to have had at least one dose of vaccine before curbs can be significantly eased.
WHICH AREAS HAVE GIVEN OUT THE MOST FIRST DOSES TO THE OVER-70S?
North East Hampshire and Farnham
99.8 per cent
East Leicestershire and Rutland
99.3 per cent
99.3 per cent
99.1 per cent
Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire
99.0 per cent
98.9 per cent
98.8 per cent
98.6 per cent
Vale of York
98.6 per cent
98.5 per cent
WHICH AREAS HAVE GIVEN OUT THE LEAST FIRST DOSES TO THE OVER-70S?
North Central London
79.4 per cent
Barking and Dagenham
78.1 per cent
Hammersmith and Fulham
78.1 per cent
77.9 per cent
77.9 per cent
City and Hackney
72.6 per cent
70.5 per cent
70.3 per cent
West London CCG
67.5 per cent
Central London (Westminster) CCG
60.9 per cent
The Department of Health announced another 497,257 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, taking the total number of people to be immunised to 16,423,082.
The NHS must reach 15.6million more people over the next four days – an average 502,481 per day – 32million Britons in the top nine groups by April.
Ministers are hunting for vulnerable Britons who have not yet come forward for their jab, warning that having large numbers of unprotected people could delay the easing of lockdown.
Local faith and community leaders will team up with doctors to host online virtual events where they will answer questions and address concerns people have about the jabs.
They will also distribute leaflets in 20 different languages — including Arabic, Punjabi and Hindi — to reach those who do not speak English fluently or can’t be targeted through traditional methods.
People want ‘normal way of life’ back after getting Covid jabs: Government adviser says it’s ‘not plausible’ to expect Britons to comply with major curbs once they’ve had both doses
The public will not accept having to comply with draconian coronavirus restrictions once they have been vaccinated, a Government adviser warned today.
Professor Sir John Bell, who is a member of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, claimed it is ‘not plausible’ to expect people to abide by major curbs, such as a ban on attending football matches, if they have received both doses.
Speaking at the Commons Science and Technology Committee today, he told MPs that people want to get back to a ‘relatively normal way of life’ and steps need to be taken to allow that.
He said: ‘It’s not plausible to imagine a world where we vaccinate the whole country and everybody believes they are still in a place that we were in six months ago, it’s just not reasonable
‘I think we are going to have to allow people to adapt their behaviours appropriately if they have actually had the vaccine.’
Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine added: ‘It’s better to plan for that than to assume you can hold back the water with a dam, because you won’t be able to.
‘People will feel that they would like to get back to a relatively normal way of life and I suspect we are going to have to get used to that.’
Sir John warned that further mutations in the virus are likely in response to the rollout of the vaccination programme.
So far most of the variants have been due to the virus evolving to be more effective in humans, having only recently crossed species, but that will change as coronavirus comes under pressure from the vaccines.
‘Most of the variants we have seen so far represent that kind of adaptation to a new species – it’s a bit like moving into a new apartment, you are shuffling the sofa around and making sure the TV is in the right place,’ he said.
‘What we will see between now and the end of the year is a number of variants which are driven by immunological selection, largely by the vaccines, and that will add another layer of complexity.’
Number 10’s Counter Disinformation Unit will ramp up its efforts and work with social media companies to tackle anti-vaxx misinformation online. Bogus claims that the jabs contain animal products or interfere with fertility have been widely distributed on platforms include WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook.
BAME people who have already received their first dose could also be recruited to give testimonies and encourage friends and family to get the vaccine.
Figures have shown that a significant number health and social care workers from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds have been reluctant to get the jab.
Research this week suggested white NHS staff are almost twice as likely as black medics to get the Covid vaccine.
A lack of trust in Government is thought to be one of the main reasons behind their hesitancy, numerous surveys have suggested. Minorities face a higher risk of having a severe bout of Covid or dying, several studies have shown.
Meanwhile, No10 has been urged to expand the rollout of Covid vaccines to include all over-50s as soon as there are enough supplies to avoid bottlenecks as the country moves through the priority list.
NHS bosses say local health teams can make their own way down the list of nine priority groups, so long as they have attempted to reach everyone in a group before moving on.
But areas that are further ahead in vaccinating their elderly populations are more quickly making their way through younger people, while willing people of the same age are left waiting longer in areas that are struggling more to reach older residents.
Critics suggest that opening up the scheme so anyone in a priority group can get a vaccine as soon as they want one could avoid low uptake in certain groups holding back others.
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, said ‘it would make sense’ to roll out jabs to people in their 50s and 60s as soon as supplies allow.
Think-tanks said officials needed to be more ambitious about the speed and not get stuck on particulars, saying it was ‘false economy’ to slow down some groups or clinics to help others catch up.
Minister will have to start dishing out second doses within weeks, making it essential to keep up the pace and get as many first jabs done before that begins to eat into supplies.
At the current pace of 434,301 people per day, it will take until March 26 to give a first dose to 32million people.
Some over-60s have already began being given the jab in areas across the country, with areas of Manchester and London handing out doses to the next age bracket.
Wales began inviting over-50s, while Northern Ireland started offering appointments to over-65s in January.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said 53 per cent of 65-69 year-olds have already received their first dose of vaccine.
The Adam Smith Institute think-tank urged areas of the country already ahead of the curve to open up the programme to over-50s now.
A spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Each person jabbed represents a life that won’t be lost to this terrible disease. We should be trying to ensure jabs reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible. If some areas have steamed ahead they should to continue apace, opening up to the over-50s and other cohorts.
‘Areas that fall behind should be looking at best practice at home and abroad to increase the vaccination rate, including ringing down lists, using online bookings and social media to reach out if spare doses are available towards the end of the day, targeted outreach to hard to reach demographics.
‘Slowing down some parts in the hope others speed up is a false economy and it’s one with a high cost in terms of lives potentially saved and taxpayers borrowing to keep the companies going while the economy is closed.’
And experts have urged No10 to be more ambitious in the roll-out’s second phase in order to open up the economy.
Dr Simon Clarke said: ‘I would say it’s vital that, as long as the bottlenecks in other areas are not due to lack of vaccine doses, it would make sense to roll out vaccination to over-50s.
‘There is no sense in not vaccinating people in one area just because there at logistical problems in others. But it’s vital that people who may be higher up the priority list because of need are not denied a vaccine because it’s been sent elsewhere.’