The UK has achieved 15 million first dose vaccinations, it has been announced – with 25 million more to be achieved by the end of April.
There was widespread praise for the NHS and for GP practices as the programme of vaccinating over-65s begins today. GP leaders, however, warned of the impact of pressure to maintain the programme, which must increase vaccination rates by about 10% to achieve government targets, along with concerns about low rates among some communities.
The government says that the 15 million included in the first round of vaccination include all the age and illness groups that account for 88% of the UK’s COVID-19 deaths. Cabinet ministers have resisted pressure to set dates for ending lockdown – but the target date for vaccinating over 50s at the end of April appears linked to the decision to press ahead with nationwide local elections a few days later. The US elections in November were associated with a significant surge in infection rates. This will require about ten million people to receive their booster shots within the 12 week target – and another 17 million people over the age of 50 receive injections.
The government meanwhile stepped up efforts to contain the South African mutation of the virus following scientific reports that it might reduce the effectiveness of vaccinations. New areas of Middlesbrough, Walsall and Hampshire were identified for “surge testing”, aimed at ensuring rapid detection of new cases. THE UK has so far confirmed 126 cases of infection with this mutant and another 56 probable cases, according to Public Health England. 18 of these people are thought to have contracted the infection in the UK. Overall, the UK yesterday reported 10,797 new cases of infection and 258 new deaths. On Saturday the number of patients hospitalised in the UK fell below the levels of the first wave for the first time this year, standing at 17,694, about half the number of the third wave peak four weeks ago.
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “Ensuring that 15m people have now received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is a fantastic achievement, particularly in such a short space of time, and in the face of many logistical challenges and intense workload pressures. This milestone is cause for celebration- but the challenge continues and GP teams are already preparing for the next phase of the vaccination programme and will start inviting patients in the next priority group from tomorrow.”
British Medical Association chair Professor Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “As we widen the net on vaccine eligibility, it’s also vital that the Government is clear in its messaging to the public, which must be culturally competent so that we maximise uptake in areas of deprivation and in black and minority ethnic populations. We also need reassurance on sustained vaccine supplies, and urgent clarity on how mass vaccination centres will work alongside GP-led community sites and surgeries in order to prevent patient confusion and keep the momentum of this rollout going. Moving forward, the UK is ideally placed to assess the efficacy of the vaccine and its transmissibility, and it is important that the results of the Government’s surveillance are made known and which will inform decisions on easing lockdown and what levels of restrictions are necessary for vaccinated individuals.”
Ruth Rankine, director of the Primary Care Networks’ Network, said: ” Across the NHS, it has been a monumental effort, especially in primary care, and it is wonderful to see it bearing fruit. Of course, we must remember that until everyone is protected, no one is protected. There is still work to do to administer first doses to all the remaining people from the first four cohorts, as well as moving down the cohorts until everyone has at least been offered a jab, not to mention beginning the work of administering second doses.”
She added: “Primary care leaders will throw everything they’ve got behind this next phase, but they will have the triple challenge of continuing to vaccinate any remaining people from the first cohorts, offering vaccinations to clinically vulnerable people including in their own homes, and soon, booking in the second doses. To do this, it is essential that local sites have supplies when and where they need them, and that the Government upholds its commitments and maintains communications about the two-dose schedule.”
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We’ve still got a long way to go to. And there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road. But after all we’ve achieved, I know we can go forward with great confidence.”