Boris Johnson targets million jabs a day to make this lockdown the last
Boris Johnson: All over 50s to be offered vaccine by end of April
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The Prime Minister hailed the “astonishing efforts” of health staff for powering past the target to inoculate 15 million of the most vulnerable. He warned the public infection rates are still very high and this is “no moment to relax”. But the PM said he believes there “isn’t much longer to go now” before rules can be eased. “We want this lockdown to be the last,” he said.
“And we want progress to be cautious but also irreversible.”
NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens said he hopes to double the number of jabs being given a day in the next few weeks.
The latest daily average rate is around 435,000 but as many as 600,000 doses have been given in just one day.
Sir Simon said: “Although supply will vary from week to week and we will have to adjust accordingly, we may be giving up to twice as many vaccinations overall – given we have got to be doing the second doses as well – than we have done in the first sprint.”
The health chief said the end of April has been set as the target to vaccinate the top nine priority groups due to “likely vaccine supply” but added that “if supply increases then we think we can go faster”.
Mr Johnson is under intense pressure from Conservative MPs to lift restrictions as soon as all over 50s have been vaccinated by the end of April.
Covid case rates dropped to the lowest level since early October yesterday and deaths are falling.
But the PM said the level of infections is still “very high” and there are more covid patients in hospital than at the peak last April.
He warned that “we don’t have all the hard facts that we need” yet to work out the impact the vaccination programme is having.
Mr Johnson appealed to the public to keep sticking to rules to make sure progress is not jeopardised.
“Although the vaccination programme is going well, we still don’t have enough data about the exact effectiveness of the vaccinations in reducing the spread of infection.
“We have some interesting straws in the wind, we have some grounds for confidence but the vaccinations have only been running for a matter of weeks.
“While we are learning the whole time, we don’t, as I talk to you today, have all the hard facts that we need.
“And the level of infection remains very high.”
The Prime Minister said he believes mass vaccination combined with rapid covid testing is a better option than forcing everyone to have the jab.
He said the quick result lateral flow tests would help tackle the problem of opening up some of the “the toughest nuts to crack”, such as nightclubs and theatres.
“I think that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down,” he said.
“You are already seeing lots of business using the potential of rapid, on-the-day testing as well. I think that, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward.”
But it was “still early days, there are lots of discussions still to be had”.
Mr Johnson said the next million invitation letters were offering appointments for a vaccine to the over-65s and those aged 16-64 with underlying conditions, as well as adult carers.
“If we can keep this pace up and if we can keep supply steady – and I hope and believe we can – then we hope to offer a vaccination to everyone in the first nine priority groups, including everyone over 50, by the end of April.”
He said the vaccination programme is an “unprecedented national achievement but it is no moment to relax”.
“In fact it is the moment to accelerate because the threat from this virus remains very real,” he said.
Mr Johnson admitted he cannot guarantee there will be no further lockdowns but stressed that “science is now unquestionably in the ascendancy over the disease”.
He said: “I can’t give that guarantee, of course not, because we are battling with nature, with a disease that is capable of mutating and changing.
“I’m increasingly confident, I’m increasingly optimistic about the sheer extent of the possibilities that are opening up with vaccinations.
“I will be setting out as much of a timetable as we can give on the 22nd and I’m very hopeful that we will be able to go ahead and open things up.”
A further 230 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 by yesterday (MON), bringing the UK total to 117,396.
Another 9,765 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were also reported, taking the total to 4,047,843.
Government data up to February 14 shows that of the 15,839,781 jabs given in the UK so far, 15,300,151 were first doses – a rise of 237,962 on the previous day.
Some 539,630 were second doses, an increase of 1,915 on figures released the previous day.
Mr Johnson will set out plans next week on how to ease lockdown restrictions.
Downing Street said the roadmap would be based on several factors, including infection rates, the number of people that are being hospitalised, the level of deaths, and the impact of vaccines.
It said the intention is to “start getting” pupils back to school on March 8, but did not rule out that they could be sent back in stages.
No 10 also urged care home staff to get vaccinated after it emerged that around a third of social care staff have not received a coronavirus jab.
There is no official data published on how many health and social care staff have received a vaccine, including for staff in elderly care homes who look after one of the most vulnerable groups.
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