Matt Hancock said: “We are now inviting the over 60s to be vaccinated as part of our national effort to ensure every adult is offered the vaccine by the end of July”, adding: “When the call comes, get the jab.”
It comes as people aged between 40-49 will be the first group to be invited to receive a vaccine once the over-50s and the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced.
As of Mar 3, 20,703,615 first doses have been administered in the UK, and 895,412 people have received a second dose so far.
In positive news for the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, the World Health Organisation recommended the jab for the over-65s, stating on Feb 10 that the benefits outweighed the risks.
Some 100 Oxford million jabs have been ordered by the Government, with 40 million due to be rolled out by March. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency also approved the Moderna vaccine for use on Jan 8, which will be delivered in the spring.
The Government announced it had ordered an additional 40 million doses of the Valneva jab for delivery in 2022. Large-scale manufacturing has already begun in Scotland, and if approved, it would deliver up to 60 million doses to the UK by the end of this year.
There will now be another “sprint” to Apr 15, when the rest of the priority groups will be given the jab.
All those aged 65 and over (group five) were contacted next, a total of 2.9 million people, as well as all those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that increase the risk of disease and mortality from Covid-19 (group six).
More than seven million people are in group six, including those with heart conditions, diabetes and severe mental health issues as well as unpaid carers for elderly and disabled.
Now all individuals over 60 (group 7) are being invited to get a jab, with those aged 55-60 (group 8) and those aged 50-55 (group 9) to be contacted next.
GPs have also been told to invite adults on the learning disabilities register to get a coronavirus vaccine. While people with profound learning difficulties have always been on the priority list, updated advice means that GPs will now be able to invite people with profound learning difficulties ahead of schedule to receive jabs.
An estimated 20.3 per cent of people aged 16 to 69 had already received their first jab as of Feb 21, which equates to one in five adults in England aged under 70, new data suggests.
On Feb 16 after an extra 1.7 million people were added to the shielding list in England, a further 800,000 people were prioritised for a vaccination.
The JCVI set out its final recommendations on phase two of the vaccine programme on Feb 26, concluding that those aged 40-49 will be first in line to receive a vaccine invite.
Those aged 30-39 and 18-29 will then be next to be invited, with the Government aiming to have all adults vaccinated by the end of July, raising hopes for the possibility of outdoor events and holidays in August.
However, no occupations will be prioritised. The JCVI has considered whether groups such as teachers and police officers should be vaccinated next, but concluded that the most effective way to prevent death and hospital admission is to carry on prioritising people by age.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for JCVI, said: “Vaccinations stop people from dying and the current strategy is to prioritise those who are more likely to have severe outcomes and die from Covid-19.
“The evidence is clear that the risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age.
“The vaccination programme is a huge success and continuing the age-based rollout will provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time, including to those in occupations at a higher risk of exposure.”
Why is there a delay between the first and second jabs?
A study found a single dose of the Oxford vaccine was 76 per cent effective in fending off infection between 22 days and 90 days post-injection, rising to 82.4 per cent after a second dose at that stage. Researchers involved in the trial said the findings support the decision made by the UK to extend the interval between initial doses and booster doses of the shot to 12 weeks.
The UEA study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, looked at data from Israel where the vaccine has been rolled out. Scientists found the vaccine becomes 90 per cent effective after 21 days – supporting UK plans to delay the timing of a second jab.
While it is not yet known how long immunity lasts beyond 21 days without a second dose, researchers believe it is “unlikely” to majorly decline during the following nine weeks.
The NHS will contact you when you are eligible for the vaccine and you will be invited to make an appointment.
If you are registered to a GP, you will be contacted by your surgery either over the phone, by text, email or post, in order to book in to receive a vaccine at your local vaccination centre.
You can still register at a GP surgery if you are not already registered to one, and it is advised that you make sure that your contact details are up to date to ensure that there are no delays.
However, if you are over 70 and have not yet received the vaccine, the government urges you to contact your GP.
Three modes of delivery
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there would be “three modes of delivery”, with hospitals and mass vaccination centres along with pharmacists and GPs offering the jab.
In total, 250 active hospital sites, 89 vaccination centres, and around 1,200 local vaccination sites – including primary care networks, community pharmacy sites and mobile teams – have been set up to ensure every at-risk person has easy access to a vaccination centre, regardless of where they live.
However, according to latest results, the Pfizer vaccine no longer needs to be kept at super cold temperatures. If approved by regulators, this means the vaccine can be stored in standard medical freezers for two weeks, which will have a significant impact on distribution.
It is understood the vaccine batches are being broken down into doses of 75, in order to give the vaccine to elderly residents and staff in homes with more than 50 beds to avoid wastage.
The Oxford vaccine does not need to be stored in such cold conditions – it can be kept at temperatures between 2C and 8C.
This means it is more mobile than the Pfizer jab and therefore more easily deployed into care homes of varying sizes and into private homes for individual doses.
Will people receive vaccines 24 hours a day?
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that 8am-8pm inoculations will continue for those in the over-80s age group, but as more people in other age groups begin to receive the vaccine, “it becomes much more convenient for people to go late at night and in the early hours”.
Mr Zahawi expected the scheme to be in operation in hospitals around London, and 50 vaccination centres, by February.
Offering vaccinations overnight will speed up the rollout, and allow the Government to reach their goal of vaccinating 32 million people – 60 per cent of the UK adult population by spring.
What about the new variant of coronavirus? Will the vaccine still protect us?
The South African variant and the Brazilian variant have threatened to undermine the vaccine and testing gains of recent months.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is expecting some vaccine tweaks to be needed as it has already begun to look at how quickly an altered jab could be approved, and Matt Hancock has said he is “very worried”.
Britain is also on the brink of approving a fourth coronavirus vaccine, after a jab trialled in the UK was shown to be highly effective against the Kent variant in what the Health Secretary hailed as a “breakthrough”.
Sixty million doses of the Novavax jab have been secured by the UK, which Mr Zahawi was himself injected with as part of the trial, which was shown to be 89.3 per cent effective in preventing coronavirus in participants.
Professor Paul Heath, the Novavax Phase 3 trial chief investigator, said he believed that vaccines could be adapted “at pace” to target new variants of coronavirus after the Novavax jab was found to be effective against the Kent variant.
Crucially, it was shown to be highly effective in preventing infection from the Kent variant which Boris Johnson said on Jan 22 could be up to 30 per cent more deadly than the original.
The government is currently looking to the future, and Boris Johnson has said that elderly and vulnerable people in the UK may have a coronavirus vaccine every year, similar to the roll-out of the annual flu jab.
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