London, May 17 (PTI) The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Monday called on the UK government to expand the vaccination programme to younger age groups in the hotspot areas of the B1.617.2 variant of COVID-19 first identified in India to clamp down on the rapid rise in infections from the highly transmissible mutation.
Khan said roughly 400 people had tested positive for the B.1.617.2 variant of concern (VOC) in the UK capital and called on ministers to include young people in the vaccination programme in the boroughs where the bulk of the cases were found ahead of other parts of the city.
The London boroughs of focus where surge testing for VOCs is currently taking place is in parts of Hackney and Dalston, Kensington and Chelsea, Ruislip, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Hounslow.
'What we are saying is be nimble in those pockets where we know there is an issue, let's use the vaccine sensibly,' Khan, re-elected as London Mayor for a second term earlier this month, told ‘Sky News’.
Khan said he has asked UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi for the “flexibility to give younger people the vaccine in those parts of London concerned about this strain”.
The UK government said on Monday that under the revised Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidelines, all second doses are being accelerated for the most vulnerable categories.
'We want every part of the country to abide by the advice set out by the JCVI, it's this unified approach that has allowed us to proceed so quickly with our vaccine rollout,' said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson at 10 Downing Street.
The Mayor of London's intervention came as it emerged that another B.1.617.2 VOC hotspot region of Bolton in north-west England had decided to start offering jabs to people as young as 17 after on-the-spot vulnerability assessments.
Under current guidelines being followed by the National Health Service (NHS), all over-38s are eligible for one of the three vaccines -- Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna -- being administered.
NHS Bolton said teenagers could be vaccinated under the guidelines if they had been shielding, had health conditions or lived with someone vulnerable. More than 6,000 people are said to have come forward for their vaccines in Bolton, after the region was earmarked for surge testing and accelerated vaccination as one of the most worrying hotspots of the B.1.617.2 VOC.
Dr Helen Wall, who is leading the town's vaccine rollout, told the BBC that it had been 'emotional' to see the turnout. She said many who had been eligible for some time came for a jab over the last two days and she now hoped the programme had 'made a big dent' in the list of outstanding eligible residents.
While the B.1.617.2 VOC has been declared as spreading much more easily than other known variants in the UK, scientists are of the view that data so far suggests that vaccinations are effective in preventing severe disease from it.
“Due to the rapid rise in cases of the B1.617.2 Variant of Concern and notable transmission in parts of the country, the JCVI advises that every effort is made to promote vaccine uptake in those who remain unvaccinated in priority cohorts 1 to 9 – these people remain at highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19,” said Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 Chair for JCVI, in reference to the age-based cohorts being followed by the NHS.
“Where vaccine supply allows, particularly in areas where B1.617.2 is a major threat, the second dose of vaccine should be brought forward from 12 to eight weeks. This is only possible because everyone in the Phase 1 priority groups has already been offered a first dose,” he said.
The efforts to fight back against the B1.617.2 VOC comes as most parts of the UK began lifting very strict lockdown measures from Monday, with greater indoor mixing of households now permitted.
Ministers have urged the public to exercise caution as the threat from the new variant has cast doubts over the UK’s planned roadmap for the end to all forms of lockdown from June 21. PTI AK SCY SCY