All adults in the UK should have been offered the Covid vaccination by September, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said, setting a clear timescale for the first time.
The vaccination programme is focusing on the four priority groups at the moment, including the over-80s and care home residents, and ministers are increasingly confident that the mid-February deadline for completing that first phase will be met.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the foreign secretary was asked about reports that all other adults could be vaccinated by the end of June.
“The plan is to get the first 15 million most vulnerable people vaccinated with the first dose by the middle of February,” he said. “We then want to get, by early spring, another 17 million. At that point we’ll have 99% of those most at risk of dying of coronavirus administered their first jab, and then the entire adult population we want being offered a first jab by September. That’s the roadmap.”
He added: “Obviously if it can be done more swiftly than that, then that’s a bonus.”
Raab said the government hoped to ease the lockdown restrictions in March. “When we get to a situation in the early spring, perhaps March, if we succeed in hitting those targets – … we can start to think about the phased transition out of the national lockdown.
“It won’t be a big bang, it will be done phased, possibly back through the tiered approach that we had before.”
In an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News, Raab was unable to guarantee that all of those who have already received a first dose of vaccine would get their second within the recommended 12-week timescale – though he was “quietly confident” it could be done.
“If we follow the roadmap and the supply chains … we ought to be able to deliver on that,” he said.
“But right the way through this pandemic we’ve had to adapt to all sorts of different things. We’re just focused on making sure we deliver on the roadmap we’ve got.”
The government had already stretched the gap between the two doses, on advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations, in order to give protection to as many people as possible, as soon as possible.
Ten new mass vaccination centres are expected to open on Monday as the programme steps up, in locations including Bournemouth, Blackburn and Slough.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, underlined the speed of the vaccine plan on Sunday, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr that “140 jabs a minute” are now being delivered.
Official data showed that by Saturday, 3.514 million doses of the Covid vaccines had been delivered, with 424,327 of those being second doses. He said that meant the NHS was “vaccinating four times faster than people are newly catching coronavirus”.
However, Stevens also highlighted the strains the NHS continue to be under. Asked by the Marr whether the health service had ever been in a more precarious position, he said, “no”.
“Hospitals are under extreme pressure and staff are under extreme pressure,” he said. “Since Christmas Day we’ve seen another 15,000 increase in the inpatients in hospitals across England. That’s the equivalent of filling 30 hospitals full of coronavirus patients and staggeringly, every 30 seconds across England another patient is being admitted to hospital with coronavirus.”