One in three adults has had a coronavirus jab, as Boris Johnson announced an accelerated target to offer first doses to all adults by July 31.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a third of all adults have had their first dose as of Sunday morning and expressed confidence over the impact of the vaccine on transmission of the virus.
However he insisted the Government must take a “cautious” approach to easing lockdown, ahead of the Prime Minister’s much anticipated speech on easing restrictions.
More than 17.2 million people in the UK have now received their first dose of a vaccine and 600,000 have received their second.
Updated figures on the number of vaccine doses administered will be published later today.
Mr Johnson is expected to reveal his roadmap out of lockdown to MPs on Monday afternoon, before delivering a press conference in the evening.
Ahead of the announcement, the PM pledged to offer a vaccine to all adults by the end of the July, with a new target to vaccinate the over-50s by April 15.
Ministers had been aiming to offer jabs to all Brits by September and all those aged 50 and over by May.
Mr Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “As of this morning, one in three adults of all adults in the whole country have been vaccinated – it’s great news.
“We are confident that the vaccine works effectively against both the old strain that has been here for some time and the so-called Kent variant, which is now the main source of infection in this country.
“We do not yet have the confidence that the vaccine is as effective against the South Africa variant and the variant first seen in Brazil, but we do think that the measures that we have taken – both the enhanced contact tracing and the measures at the border – are reducing those new variants here.”
Mr Hancock said the latest data showed “around a dozen” new cases of the South African variant had been found in the country, with around 300 cases in total.
In another interview, Mr Hancock suggested the number of cases linked to the Brazil and South African variants was falling in the UK.
Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who advise on the order people get their jabs, are working on a plan for the rollout to the under-50s.
Professor Adam Finn, a Bristol University expert who is a member of the JCVI, said he expected an announcement on vaccine priorities some time next week.
He said cases were falling “impressively fast” but that that is “primarily the lockdown and not the vaccine programme”.
But he added: “Conversely, getting the vaccine programme done and rolling it out across the population will be really important, as we go forward, in continuing to bring the virus circulation down and reducing the chance of emergence of new variants that might escape that immunity.
“I think the objective of getting this done quickly is a really good one.”
Mr Hancock sidestepped calls for teachers to be given priority once the over-50s have been jabbed.
He told Sky: “There isn’t strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group, but I’ll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths.”
However he said there was evidence the vaccines could reduce transmission by two-thirds, which could be a factor in deciding whether to give jabs to children.
He said: “There’s clinical trials under way as to whether children should be vaccinated.
“There are two points here. One is that it absolutely must be safe, specifically for children, so that is being currently investigated.
“The second is – because children very, very rarely get symptoms or serious illness from the disease – the value, the importance, of vaccinating children is to try to stop the spread of the disease.”
Early evidence suggests an impact of the vaccine on stopping transmission.
Mr Hancock said: “It looks like the first jab reduces your impact of transmitting the disease by about two-thirds, but we need more evidence on that as well.”
Despite the success of the jabs rollout, he said it was “right to be cautious” in easing lockdown.
“The vaccination programme, whilst clearly going very well, will take time to be able to reach all people who have significant vulnerability, especially because we need to get the second jab to everybody,” he said.
“So, we’ve got time that needs to be taken to get this right.
“The Prime Minister will set out the road map tomorrow and he will set out the full details – taking into account that we need to take a cautious but irreversible approach, that’s the goal.”