The minister for vaccine deployment, Nadhim Zahawi, has said that April will be the “second-dose month”, as the UK passed the milestone of giving a first jab to 30 million people, comprising the vast majority of those in the first nine priority groups.
The minister’s remark confirms a near pausing of the first-dose programme – even as an additional vaccine, from Moderna, becomes available in April – as other supplies are focused on ensuring that people receive second doses within the promised 12-week limit.
Zahawi wrote on Twitter that the UK remained on track to protect “the whole adult population by end July”, but spelled out the switch in focus by adding: “April will be second dose month.”
A shortfall in vaccine supplies in April has emerged because of a hold-up with a consignment of 5m AstraZeneca vaccines from India, and the need for 1.7m doses from the same supplier to be retested.
That will only be marginally eased by the arrival of the Moderna vaccine, which has a 94% efficacy rate in trials, and which the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, announced earlier on Sunday would begin arriving later in April.
The government has not said how many doses of the Moderna vaccine will be delivered next month, but press reports over the weekend said that the initial supply of jabs would be in the hundreds of thousands, and probably about 500,000.
The most likely recipients are those in the next group waiting for an official call to be vaccinated – people aged between 40 and 49. Those aged over 50 or who are clinically vulnerable or work in the NHS or social care will have received either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine.
Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said the Moderna vaccine would add “a further line of supply to enable the vaccine programme to move forward into the under-50s”. However, he cautioned that the US company would produce “many fewer doses than we are seeing from AstraZeneca and Pfizer”.
A further 423,852 people received a first vaccine dose on Saturday, taking the UK wide total to 30.15 million, close to the 32 million who are in the first nine priority groups. Second doses administered totalled 233,964, taking the total to 3.5m, with the requirement for follow-up jabs increasing markedly in April.
The Moderna vaccine, which is made by a US company and which uses the same messenger RNA (mRNA) technology as the Pfizer jab, was the third to be approved by the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
It was cleared for use in January, with the UK ordering a total of 17m doses, but the government said at the time that supplies would not become available until the spring.
The UK’s biggest order for vaccines is with AstraZeneca, which is committed to supplying 100m doses to the UK. The government has also ordered 40m doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be approved for use and the only one to be used in the early stages of the vaccination programme.
The government has also ordered supplies from another four vaccine manufacturers: Valneva (60m), Novavax (60m), Sanofi (60m) and Janssen (30m).
In his interview with the Sky programme Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Dowden played down a report that the UK was planning to offer 3.7m doses of vaccine to Ireland.
“Clearly, our first priority is ensuring we deliver vaccines in the United Kingdom,” he said. “We clearly don’t currently have a surplus of vaccines. Should we get to the point where we have a surplus of vaccines, we’d make decisions on the allocation of that surplus.”