Brian Pinker, 82, receives Oxford University / AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from Nurse Sam Foster at Churchill Hospital in Oxford as the NHS increases its vaccination program with 530,000 doses of the newly approved sting, which will be rolled out across the UK in January May 4, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Parsons – WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Steve Parsons | WPA pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images
The UK government announced on Sunday that it intends to give every adult in the country a first dose of coronavirus vaccine by July 31, a month earlier than the previous target.
The new goal also aims to get anyone over 50 or with an underlying health condition to get a vaccine by April 15, rather than the previous May 1 goal.
The manufacturers of the two vaccines used by the UK, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, both had supply problems in Europe. However, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who announced the new targets, said “we now believe we have the supplies” to speed up the vaccination campaign.
The early success of the UK vaccination campaign is welcome good news for a country with more than 120,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest in Europe. More than 17.2 million people, nearly a third of the country’s adults, have received the first of two doses since vaccinations began on December 8th.
The UK is delaying delivery of the second dose of vaccine until 12 weeks after the first in order to provide partial protection to as many people as possible quickly. The approach has been criticized in a number of countries – and by Pfizer, who does not provide data to support the delay – but is supported by the UK government’s scientific advisers.
The news of the new vaccination targets came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with senior ministers on Sunday to finalize a “roadmap” for the national lockdown, a plan he is due to announce on Monday.
Faced with a dominant UK variant of the virus, which scientists believe is both transmissible and more deadly, the UK has spent much of the winter in severe conditions. Bars, restaurants, gyms, schools, hair salons and all non-essential shops have closed while grocery stores, pharmacies and take-out restaurants are still open.
The government has stressed that economic and social reopenings will be slow and cautious, with minor shopping or outdoor socializing unlikely before April. Many children will be back to school from March 8th and nursing home residents will be able to have a visitor from the same date.
Johnson’s Conservative government has been accused of reopening the country too quickly after the first lockdown in the spring.
Newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths are declining but remain high, and Johnson says his “data, not data” reopening roadmap would follow.
However, he is under pressure from conservative lawmakers, who argue that restrictions should be lifted quickly to revive an economy that suffered three lockdowns in the past year.
John Edmunds, a member of the government’s scientific advisory group, said UK hospitals are still treating around 20,000 coronavirus patients, half of the January high but almost as high as the first spike in the spring.
“If we let up very quickly now, hospital stays would increase again,” and deaths, he told the BBC.
Edmunds said there is additional uncertainty from new virus variants, including one identified in South Africa, that may be more resistant to current vaccines.
Hancock told Sky News that the government would take a “cautious but irreversible approach” to reopening the economy.