Covid vaccinations look set to be extended to people in their 40s within days as the government is “on course” to hit a key target.
The Department of Health said it expects to hit the target of this Thursday to offer a first dose of the jab to all over-50s and ‘at risk’.
That will clear the way for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to make its final announcement on priority groups for the remaining 21million Brits.
The JCVI previously indicated all those aged 40-49 would be offered a jab next, though it is unclear today if that age group will be smaller, such as 45-49s. Reports suggest initial appointments may even just be for 49-year-olds.
Ministers previously pledged everyone in nine priority groups – 32million people – would be offered inoculations by April 15.
Today the government said it was “on course” to hit the target, and The Times reported it will be hit two days early.
An announcement on the next stage is expected as soon as tomorrow, despite a supply shortage during the month of April.
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It is hoped that supplies will increase later this month, allowing the second stage of the vaccination process to continue as planned.
Many people in their 40s are already being offered a jab if their area is ahead of the national rollout. However, the national booking system continues to say only over-50s should apply.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our vaccination programme continues at pace – with over 32 million people having now received a first dose.
“Our target is to offer a jab to over 50s by 15 April and all adults by the end of July, and we are on course to meet that.
“We will be setting out more details later this week.”
Asked if under-50s would start officially being offered the jab the PM’s spokesman said: “We’re in a position where we have delivered around 32million doses.
“We’re going to keep focusing on doing that. Our target is to offer over-50s by mid-April, and we’ll be setting out more details of where we’ve got to later.”
He added: “It’s important to note that the JCVI has not issued its final advice on the second phase of the rollout.
“And that’s the point where you’d expect to see the NHS start to invite more people forward.”
Asked if the update “later” would be today, or this week, the spokesman would not say. He replied: “As we’ve been making progress through the vaccine rollout we’ve been updating on how we’ve been vaccinating the cohorts… We’ll continue to do that.”
Asked if the UK had now offered all over-50s a vaccine he replied: “We will set out that detail, exactly how we’ve progressed down those cohorts, later on.”
Asked if the next stage would be only a very small group or all those aged 45-49, he replied: “The first thing is for the JCVI to set out their final advice, and then the NHS who are the operational leads on this will be able to overlay that with detail of what comes next.”
The news comes the day after Britain delivered a record-breaking number of Covid vaccine second doses.
Saturday saw a huge 475,230 second jabs administered, along with 111,109 first doses.
“Thanks to everyone involved in this extraordinary effort which has already saved thousands of lives,” the Prime Minister added.
The surge in jabs comes as lockdown is eased for millions, with pubs, shops, hairdressers and gyms reopening on Monday.
Pictures showed people in some parts enjoying their freedom as the clock struck midnight, heading out for a pint or a trim.
But the public has been warned to still respect the rules and act with caution as the pandemic continues.
Former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King highlighted a surge in cases in Chile despite a successful vaccination campaign
He told Sky News : “From the point of view of the population itself, we’re all dying to get out of lockdown.
“From the point of view of the epidemic, I think it’s all a little bit more worrying.”
He added: “Chile is a country where the rate of vaccination amongst the population was third highest in the world – they were ahead of us in terms of the number of people who have had the vaccine – and they’re suddenly now into a third wave.”
Modelling by Government advisers in the UK has suggested that Monday’s relaxation will not result in a surge of cases that would put pressure on the NHS.
But it is “highly likely” that there will be a further resurgence in hospital admissions and deaths after subsequent steps along the road map out of lockdown.