UK’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout expands to over-56 age groups

Aditi Khanna
·4-min read

London, Mar 7 (PTI) The UK entered the next phase of its vaccination drive against COVID-19 on Sunday as the eligible cohorts for jabs were expanded from over-60s to all those aged 56 and over.

Letters from the National Health Service (NHS) to around 850,000 people in that age group were issued this weekend with a further 850,000 due to arrive by Monday. The expansion comes as NHS staff said more than one-third of the adult population have now received a life-saving jab.

'The NHS vaccination programme is in full swing and more than 21 million of the most at-risk people have already received their first dose,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

'This includes more than 90 per cent of those aged 65 and over and almost 9 in 10 people who are clinically extremely vulnerable. It's an extraordinary feat and we remain on track to offer a first vaccine to all adults by 31 July,' he said.

People receiving the letters are invited to go online to the national booking service to arrange a jab at a time and location that is convenient for them.

'The NHS vaccine programme is committed to protecting the country against coronavirus and it is testament to our incredible staff that we can now move on to the next age group,” said Dr Nikki Kanani, a general practitioner (GP) and NHS national medical director for primary care.

'We must not forget that our success in vaccinating more than 18 million people is down to careful planning and the hard work of those staff. The vaccines are both safe and effective, so if anybody who is eligible but hasn't been vaccinated yet, I’d urge them to go online or call 119 and get themselves booked in,” she said.

The NHS is vaccinating in line with Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidance which sees people invited to be vaccinated in order of risk, which increases with age and people aged between 50 and 55 are set to be invited shortly.

Vaccinations are now being administered at more than 1,600 sites across the country, including temples, mosques, museums and rugby grounds, with a maximum 10-mile radius of availability of at least one vaccination centre.

People can use the national booking service to reserve a slot at an NHS Vaccination Centre or one of the pharmacy-led services across the country.

Appointments are staggered to allow for social distancing and people are being asked not to turn up early to avoid creating queues. Everyone receives a health status check and a pre-vaccination assessment before they have their jab.

The UK is currently administering two vaccines based on storage facilities at local levels –Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. The latter also has a tie-up with the Serum Institute of India and a batch of 10 million doses from India are set to add to Britain’s vaccine stockpile.

The latest move comes as the UK begins lifting strict stay-at-home restrictions with the reopening of schools across England from Monday, as part of a roadmap set by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Downing Street said nearly 57 million lateral flow test kits have been delivered to schools and colleges as part of the rollout. The tests involve taking a swab of the nose and throat and the sample is then inserted into a tube of liquid and gives a result within 30 minutes. Students will be tested for the virus three times in the first two weeks of school. After that, they will be given two tests each week to use at home.

Johnson said the government was being careful 'so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far' and urged people to take up the vaccine and get tested when necessary.

The second part of stage one for lockdown easing will allow outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households from March 29.

Further lifting of the rules will then happen if all pre-set conditions are met, with all shops possibly allowed to open by April 12 and all restrictions potentially lifted by June 21. PTI AK MRJ MRJ