The government has reached its ambitious target of offering the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine to the four groups of people determined to be the most vulnerable to coronavirus – two days early.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, announced the milestone on Twitter, confirming the government now plans to move through the age groups and offer all over-50s a jab by the end of April.
The priority order for vaccinations was set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation. It outlined the top four priority groups, in order, as older care home residents and staff; people aged 80-plus and health and care workers; those aged 75 and over; those aged 70 and over.
Ministers had aimed to hit the target by 15 February – but achieved the goal two days early, with more than 500,000 jabs taking place on Saturday.
Clinically vulnerable people in England are now being invited to book their Covid-19 jab as the vaccination programme moves into a new phase on Monday.
People aged 65 to 69 are also among more than one million people who have been invited to book their vaccine, NHS England said.
Almost 1.2 million letters were due to have landed on doorsteps by Saturday asking people to log on to the national booking service, with a further 1.2 million due to arrive this week.
Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, told the PA news agency that he urges everyone who gets a letter to get the vaccine without hesitation.
He said officials have been working with faith groups and local community leaders to encourage everybody to come forward.
“Don’t hesitate at all. These vaccines are safe, they’re effective against Covid, they’ll protect you, they’ll protect your loved ones, and of course they’ll help get society back to normal again,” he said.
Asked about the idea that society will deal with Covid-19 in a similar way to the flu, Prof Powis said: “Well, we’ll be living with coronavirus for some time to come.
“We’ve already got over 18,000 people still in our hospitals with the consequences of Covid, so it’s really important at the moment that everybody is complying with those social distancing measures.
“Vaccinations will help, and of course as we vaccinate more and more people that means the Government can certainly begin to look at how those restrictions might be lifted.
“But our focus in the NHS is to ensure we get as many jabs into people’s arms as quickly as possible. So when you get the call – don’t hesitate, come forward, get your jab.”
Although no official target has been set, the aim is to offer vaccinations to all adults in the UK by autumn – although Boris Johnson, the prime minister, has admitted that there might then need to be a third round of “booster” injections to tackle vaccine-resistant new strains of Covid-19.