London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday set a new July-end vaccination target as he promised that the rollout of jabs against COVID-19 will go “further and faster”, covering every adult in the country.
Speaking a day before he is scheduled to table his plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown measures in Parliament on Monday, the UK prime minister said by July 31 all adults should have been offered the first dose of coronavirus vaccine by the National Health Service (NHS) based on the order of priority outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The new pledge comes as the UK has met its February 15 target to cover the most vulnerable categories in the top four JCVI categories over the elderly and frontline workers.
“Hitting 15 million vaccinations was a significant milestone – but there will be no let up, and I want to see the rollout go further and faster in the coming weeks,” said Johnson. On Sunday last week, the UK recorded that 15 million people had received at least one of the two anti-COVID-19 doses.
“We will now aim to offer a jab to every adult by the end of July, helping us protect the most vulnerable sooner, and take further steps to ease some of the restrictions in place,” he said.
On a note of caution, he added: “But there should be no doubt – the route out of lockdown will be cautious and phased, as we all continue to protect ourselves and those around us.”
Johnson is holding a meeting of senior ministers to thrash out the lockdown-easing strategy, with the priorities being school reopenings by next month and families reuniting with loved ones in care homes.
His latest pledge comes as NHS England said over two-thirds of people aged between 65 and 69 have now had their first anti-COVID-19 jabs of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BionTech vaccines, with people aged 64 also set to be called forward from next week.
The new plan means that by April 15, all adults aged 50 and over, as well as younger people with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, should have been offered a jab.
“Every jab brings hope. Each jab means more of our loved ones will soon be protected from this awful virus and is another step forward in returning to normality in the future,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“The vaccination programme continues to expand and we are calling on everybody who is eligible to book their appointments as soon as possible,” added UK Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
NHS England said it is ready to move to the next phase of the “biggest vaccination programme in its history”, with larger vaccination centres opened across the country, making use of sports stadiums, racecourses, museums and religious settings as convenient community settings where people can access a vaccine and maintain safe social distancing.
High street pharmacists have also joined the great mobilisation to protect the country, and people in the 65 and over age bracket can also get their appointment at a community pharmacy, if they prefer.
With everyone aged 70 years old and over offered a jab, and all care homes visited for vaccination where it’s safe to do so, the NHS said it is now seeking to drive uptake among the next priority groups.
“The NHS COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues full steam ahead – letters inviting everyone aged 65 to 69 went out a week ago, and already over two thirds of them have had their first COVID-19 vaccination.
“Across England overall nearly a third of adults have now had their first jab, and early signs suggest this is contributing to the welcome fall in coronavirus hospitalisation that we’re now seeing,” said NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens.
Around 17.2 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a vaccine at one of the 1,500 vaccination sites across the country, and almost 600,000 have received their second dose.
The UK lost 120,593 lives to COVID-19, along with over 4 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University.