The government said on Monday that 32m people across the UK, including all over-50s, had been offered their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as the NHS prepares to enter the second stage of the vaccination rollout.
Prime minister Boris Johnson described the latest figures as a “hugely significant milestone”, with all those in the top nine vulnerable groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) now vaccinated.
The next phase is set to begin this week, with the JCVI expected to provide further details on vaccinating those under 50. Individuals in their late 40s are likely to be called for their jabs first.
Johnson praised all those involved, saying: “I want to thank everyone involved in the vaccine rollout which has already saved many thousands of lives.”
That sentiment was echoed by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, who also encouraged individuals to come forward. “Vaccines are safe and effective and have already saved more than 10,000 lives,” he said. “The vaccine programme has had a significant impact on reducing the pressure on hospitals, helping us to gradually ease restrictions”.
Under phase 1, the government aimed to offer a first dose of the vaccine to all 32m people within the JCVI’s nine at-risk groups.
Individuals within these groups, which included the over 80s, care home residents and the extremely clinically vulnerable, accounted for 99 per cent of all coronavirus-related deaths.
In February, the government offered a first dose to those in the top four groups and has now reached its target of offering a vaccine to those in groups five to nine ahead of its April 15 deadline.
The second phase focuses on inoculating the rest of the UK population, with the government aiming to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July.
Johnson said the government was also committed to ensuring that individuals received their second dose. More than 7 million people across the UK have been fully inoculated with both doses.
“We will now move forward with completing essential second doses and making progress towards our target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July,” he said.
The announcement comes as England enters into step two of the lockdown road map, with hospitality outlets such as pubs able to serve customers outdoors while non-essential businesses and personal care services such as hairdressers and barbers have also reopened.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: “Vaccinating 19 out of 20 people aged 50 and over is an incredible milestone. Thanks to our NHS nurses, doctors, pharmacists, operational managers and thousands of other staff and volunteers, the NHS Covid vaccination programme is without a doubt the most successful in our history.
“It’s one of our tickets out of this pandemic and offers real hope for the future.”