People aged over 70 and those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable will be invited to receive coronavirus vaccinations starting this week.
It comes as the national vaccine programme continues to expand, with 10 more mass vaccination centres due to open this week and the government revealing that the vaccine is being given at a rate of 140 jabs per minute.
More than 3.8 million people in the UK, including those over 80, care home residents, and NHS staff, have already had the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
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And from today, the programme will be rolled out for the next two priority groups.
The first two groups will remain the priority but vaccination sites that have supply and capacity will be allowed to vaccinate those in the third and fourth groups as well.
More than half of over-80s have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
The aim is for 88% of those most at risk of dying from coronavirus to receive their first jab by the middle of February, and 99% of this group by early spring.
Two vaccines are currently being administered – one from Pfizer/BioNTech and the other which was developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
On Sunday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News that all adults in the UK should be offered the first dose of a COVID vaccine by September – with the hope some restrictions can be lifted by March.
Speaking on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Raab said: “Our target is that by September to have offered all the adult population a first dose, if we can do it faster than that great but that’s the roadmap.”
Speaking about the expansion of the vaccine programme, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Today is a significant milestone in our vaccination programme as we open it up to millions more people who are most at risk from COVID-19.
“We are now delivering the vaccine at a rate of 140 jabs a minute and I want to thank everyone involved in this national effort.
“We have a long way to go and there will doubtless be challenges ahead – but by working together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus.”
Matt Hancock added: “This measure does not mean our focus on getting care homes, healthcare staff and those aged 80 and over vaccinated is wavering – it will remain our utmost priority over the coming weeks to reach the rest of these groups.”
Meanwhile, one of the two scientists who discovered the new coronavirus variant in the UK has told Sky News that preliminary findings show the ‘English variant’ does not impact the efficacy of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines.
Dr Ravi Gupta, professor of microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “We’re hopeful that the new variant, in its current form, will be effectively targeted by our vaccines and so that’s really good news, but we must be cautious about moving forward because this virus is going to acquire new mutations and some of those may include the mutations of the Brazilian and South African variants which would change the equation dramatically.”
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Vaccination centres expected to boost rollout
The 10 further mass vaccination hubs, which open this week, will bring the total number of centres in England to 17, alongside 1,000 GP-led surgeries and more than 250 hospitals already providing jabs.
The new centres are in:
- Bournemouth International Centre on the south coast
- Taunton Racecourse in Somerset
- Blackburn Cathedral in Lancashire
- Salt Hill Activity Centre in Slough, Berkshire
- Norwich Food Court in Norfolk
- The Lodge in Wickford, Essex
- Princess Royal Sports Arena in Lincolnshire
- St Helens Rugby Ground in Merseyside
- The park-and-ride at Askham Bar in York
- Olympic Office Centre in Wembley, north London
On Sunday, 671 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test were reported in the UK, bringing the total to just under 90,000.
There were also 38,598 new cases reported, the lowest number seen so far this year.