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Britain’s jab drive reaches the half-way stage: Matt Hancock hails ‘national success story’

Britain today passed a huge milestone in its fight against the coronavirus as the number of adults to have been given a vaccine passed the halfway point – a day after the country recorded a record number of daily jabs.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the ‘national success story’ and reiterated that it was ‘our way out of this pandemic’.

Government data up to March 18 shows 49.9 per cent of adults had a first dose of the vaccine, with an estimated 73,000 more jabs needed to pass the halfway mark. Those figures are expected to be updated later today.

Yesterday the vaccine drive hit a record high after 660,276 doses were dished out across the country in the previous 24 hours.

It comes as a top British scientist who is leading Covid-19 vaccine research warned the Government faces a ‘challenge’ to deliver all second jabs within 12 weeks due to supply issues.

Meanwhile Ursula von der Leyen threatened to halt exports of AstraZeneca vaccines if the EU does not receive its deliveries first, in a worsening row over delayed shipments that has caused international tensions.

And a government scientist warned foreign trips are ‘extremely unlikely’ for Britons this summer as Europe struggles to control a surge in coronavirus cases.

Elsewhere in the crisis:

  • Politicians across the House of Commons have called for Priti Patel to change coronavirus legislation to allow protests despite lockdown;
  • Billionaire tax exiles, an oil-rich nation and Saudi royals have claimed millions of pounds under the furlough scheme, an investigation reveals;
  • Boris Johnson yesterday joined the millions of vaccinated Britons after receiving his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab;
  • Angela Merkel said she will have the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after lifting her government’s ban in a stunning U-turn;
  • Britain yesterday saw Covid cases fall again, dropping by a quarter from last week to 4,802 positive tests in a day while deaths also dropped by 42 per cent to 101.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured yesterday) hailed the ‘national success story’ and reiterated that it was ‘our way out of this pandemic’

The Prime Minister, 56, gave a triumphant thumbs up after having his inoculation at St Thomas' in central London yesterday - the same hospital he was admitted to when struck down with Covid in April last year

The Prime Minister, 56, gave a triumphant thumbs up after having his inoculation at St Thomas’ in central London yesterday – the same hospital he was admitted to when struck down with Covid in April last year 

Some 26.2million Britons have now received their first dose, the equivalent of half the adult population in Britain, and 2m have received both injections

Some 26.2million Britons have now received their first dose, the equivalent of half the adult population in Britain, and 2m have received both injections

Protests SHOULD be allowed! Dozens of MPs pressure Priti Patel to allow demonstrations during Covid crisis 

Politicians across the House of Commons have called for Priti Patel to change coronavirus legislation to allow protests despite lockdown.

More than 60 MPs joined campaign groups Big Brother Watch and Liberty in writing to the Home Secretary to say it is a human right to demonstrate.

Tories Steve Baker and Sir Christopher Chope as well as Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler signed the letter.

They are calling on Ms Patel to tell police to ‘facilitate’ protests and avoid forcing them to ‘decipher precisely what is required’.

It comes as activists are expected to take to the streets across Britain again on Saturday as they call for an end to Covid restrictions.

The letter said: ‘The absence of clear guidance on these issues has created an entirely unsatisfactory situation, which has persisted to varying degrees for almost a year now.

‘The police have no legal certainty as to their duties and powers, protestors have no legal certainty as to their rights, and there is inconsistent application of the Regulations across the country.

‘This cannot continue.’

But the Home Office doubled down on its position that it is still illegal to leave home without and exemption until March 29.

A spokesman said: ‘While we are still in a pandemic we continue to urge people to avoid mass gatherings, in line with wider coronavirus restrictions.’ 

Mr Hancock said today: ‘I’m absolutely delighted to tell you that we have now vaccinated half of all adults in the united kingdom.

‘It’s a huge success and I want to say many, many thanks to all those involved, including the half of all adults who have come forward.’

He added: ‘The UK vaccination programme is a big success story. It’s down to the hard work of many, many people.’

The vaccine programme had been steadily gaining pace this week, after 529,119 total doses were given out on Tuesday and 581,855 on Wednesday.

Some 26.2million Britons have now received their first dose, the equivalent of half the adult population in Britain, and  two million have received both injections.

Despite the promising week, the NHS is gearing up for a significant shortage of vaccine doses next month due to supply issues in India.

A shipment of five million Oxford shots has been delayed, for reasons have not been made clear, with No10 holding talks with New Delhi to get the roll-out back on track.

It means Britons over 40 who were expecting to be called for their appointments next month will need to wait until at least May. Ministers are instead prioritising current stock for over-50s and for people due their second doses.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, welcomed the vaccine milestone.

He said: ‘To have vaccinated half of the UK’s adult population in under 3 months is remarkable. Soon we’ll have covered 99 per cent of those at high risk of dying from Covid-19. The UK should be proud of this achievement and the scientists, healthcare workers and volunteers who got us here.

‘But we need to start thinking beyond our borders. The UK has access to 100 million surplus vaccine doses. Almost enough to vaccinate every citizen twice. These doses won’t be of use in the UK. It’s time we begin sharing doses with those most in need globally.

‘This is more than a question of ethics – it is a scientific and economic imperative. If left to spread unchecked in large parts of the world, the virus risks mutating to an extent where our vaccines and treatments no longer work – leaving us all exposed. Science has given us the exit strategy, but it will only work if its benefits can reach the maximum number of people around the world.

‘It is not enough to champion the importance of equitable access – we urgently need confirmed timetables for sharing doses through Covax. The UK should lead the way on this.’

Conservative MPs were also quick to congratulate Health Secretary Mr Hancock after the monumental vaccination figure was reached.

Baroness Morgan tweeted: ‘A remarkable achievement – thank you to everyone involved in making this happen. For the first & last time ever I’m sorry not to be over 50!’

Conservative Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland and Melton, said: ‘Half of all adults vaccinated – what a Herculean achievement!’

Tory Rob Butler posted: ”Vaccinating half of all adults in the UK is an astonishing achievement.’ The MP for Aylesbury added: ‘Thank you to everyone in & around Aylesbury for your contribution.’

MP for Bury St Edmunds Jo Churchill said: ‘An incredible milestone – we have now vaccinated half of all adults in the UK. When you receive your invitation please #getthejab!’

And Conservative MP for BurySouth Christian Wakeford put: ‘Might be waiting a bit for mine but this is a massive achievement. To everyone who has helped get us this far – Thank you.’

NHS England figures show 79 per cent of over-55s in the country had at least one dose of the vaccine by March 14, but London is significantly lagging behind in uptake

Statistics from the MHRA show that while 78 per cent of all first doses were Pfizer jabs between December 8 and January 24, this split reversed between February 7 and March 7 so that it only accounted for 34 per cent. Just nine per cent of all first doses in the week to March 7 (200,000) were supplied by Pfizer

Statistics from the MHRA show that while 78 per cent of all first doses were Pfizer jabs between December 8 and January 24, this split reversed between February 7 and March 7 so that it only accounted for 34 per cent. Just nine per cent of all first doses in the week to March 7 (200,000) were supplied by Pfizer

Pfizer warns EU NOT to block vaccine exports 

Pfizer has urged the EU to back down on its threat to block vaccine exports to the UK, claiming Britain could hit back by impounding crucial UK-manufactured ingredients for vaccines produced in Europe. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen issued the warning this week amid the shambolic distribution of jabs on the continent.

She threatened to block exports of vaccines to Britain while complaining that the EU was ‘still waiting’ for Astazeneca doses to be delivered from the UK, where the vaccine drive is far outpacing efforts on the continent. It comes amid criticism of European leaders for suspending the Astrazeneca jab over blood clot fears despite there being no evidence that the injection increases the risk.

Both European and British regulators have insisted the vaccine is safe and that the tiny handful of clotting cases – out of millions of jab recipients – is not linked to the injections. It is thought there are currently 7.5million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine sitting un-used in Europe as a result of the bans.

However, von der Leyen’s threat has sparked a response from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and partner BioNTech. The firms have told Brussels of the potential power held by the UK, which could see officials preventing raw materials needed for the jab being shipped from northern England if the row continues.

Professor Robin Shattock of Imperial College London, who is leading Covid-19 vaccine research, warned the Government faces a ‘challenge’ to deliver all second jabs within 12 weeks.

He told BBC Breakfast the Government needed to make sure as many people as possible receive both doses of the vaccine to ‘not lose the advantage we are already gaining’.

He said: ‘We need to get people vaccinated as soon as possible, and get those second doses delivered within that 12-week period, which is going to be a challenge to do that and deliver vaccine to people who haven’t had their first dose.’

Asked about new variants, Professor Shattock added: ‘Something we have to be careful about is the potential for new variants to arise and the vaccine may have a selective pressure.

‘It emphasises again we can’t unlock too quickly. We need to make sure that as many people have both doses of the vaccine so we can get on top of it and not lose the advantage we are already gaining.’ 

And asked how well the vaccine was working in terms of reducing transmission, he said: ‘I think it’s really difficult to say at this stage.

‘We are seeing a reduction in hospitalisation and in some parts of the country, a reduction in transmission, that’s a good thing. The vaccine may be contributing to that.

‘But we are seeing in other parts of the world, it’s going down in the US for example and they’re not as far ahead with their vaccine campaign, so we can’t be complacent.’

Meanwhile Ms von der Leyen threatened to halt exports of AstraZeneca vaccines if the EU does not receive its deliveries first, in a worsening row over delayed shipments that has heightened tensions.

The EU chief told the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company it has to come through on deliveries to the bloc or it would block exports of jabs made on its turf. 

Professor Robin Shattock of Imperial College London, who is leading Covid-19 vaccine research, warned the Government faces a 'challenge' to deliver all second jabs within 12 weeks

Professor Robin Shattock of Imperial College London, who is leading Covid-19 vaccine research, warned the Government faces a ‘challenge’ to deliver all second jabs within 12 weeks

Super-wealthy subsidised by the taxpayer

Billionaire tax exiles, an oil-rich nation and Saudi royals have claimed millions of pounds under the furlough scheme, an investigation reveals.

The super-rich owners made the ‘obscene’ claims for taxpayers’ cash for staff who were sent home after their businesses, which include the Ritz Hotel and Harrods department stores, were closed under coronavirus restrictions. The cost of the scheme is set to hit £66bn when it comes to an end in September, helping push the UK’s national debt well over £2trillion.

 The recipients include the Qatari owners of Harrods and the Ritz, who claimed £3million in December alone, and members of the Saudi royal family received up to £55,000, according to the Guardian. Tax exiles Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of chemicals company Ineos, and private equity tycoon Guy Hands also own companies that claimed under the scheme, as did billionaires Evgeny Lebedev, Len Blavatnik and Mohamed Al Fayed.

Dubai’s government and its ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum have also claimed for a ‘six-star’ concierge service for VIPs. The list, drawn from Government disclosures on the 750,000 businesses using the scheme in December 2020, has sparked fury amongst MPs who accused ministers of scattering public money ‘like confetti’.

Others argued the extremely wealthy could afford to pay their own staff, rather than turn to the coronavirus jobs retention scheme (CJRS).

It comes after Tony and Cherie Blair were found to be claiming under the scheme, alongside golf courses owned by Donald Trump, model Cara Delevingne, Jamie Oliver Group and Samantha Cameron’s fashion brand Cefinn.

She told Germany’s Funke media group: ‘We have the option of banning a planned export.  That’s the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start delivering to other countries.’

The warning comes as the European Union struggles to speed up its Covid inoculation campaign, just as many member states are battling rising infection rates that have forced renewed restrictions.

Ms Von der Leyen said AstraZeneca had delivered only 30 per cent of the 90million vaccine doses it had promised for the first quarter of the year.

The firm blamed production delays at its EU plants in Belgium and the Netherlands, but European officials are furious that AstraZeneca has been able to deliver its UK contract in full while falling short on the continent.

European Commission president Ms von der Leyen had on Wednesday already threatened to invoke emergency powers to block European exports of Covid-19 vaccines to ensure ‘reciprocity’ with other suppliers.

‘All options are on the table,’ the former German defence minister said, adding that the vaccine situation would be addressed among EU leaders at talks next week.

The EU has already set up special oversight of vaccine exports in which manufacturers contracted to supply Europe must declare if they intend to export doses outside the bloc.

Most of the EU’s worry is over Britain, where the inoculation campaign has progressed at a much faster pace than in continental Europe.

Brussels has accused London of operating a de facto export ban to achieve its vaccine success, a claim furiously denied by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

The EU’s export ban mechanism must first be triggered in an individual member state and then be approved by the European Commission before it can be enforced.

The mechanism has so far only been applied once, with Italy blocking the export of a 250,000 dose shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, citing ‘persistent shortage’ and ‘delays in supply’.

Not all EU members support export bans, which could upset global supply chains, and countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have urged caution.

Ursula von der Leyen threatened to halt exports of AstraZeneca vaccines if the EU did not receive its deliveries first, in a worsening row over delayed shipments that has caused international tensions

Ursula von der Leyen threatened to halt exports of AstraZeneca vaccines if the EU did not receive its deliveries first, in a worsening row over delayed shipments that has caused international tensions

The UK deal with Serum in India was announced on March 2 but Mr Poonawalla had warned ten days earlier that supplies were not running smoothly. Pictured: A map of vaccine manufacturing sites across Europe and India

The UK deal with Serum in India was announced on March 2 but Mr Poonawalla had warned ten days earlier that supplies were not running smoothly. Pictured: A map of vaccine manufacturing sites across Europe and India

Supply figures for the vaccines were always expected to dip in April and May, according to projections published by the Scottish Government in January u2014 before the UK had struck a deal for 10million doses from India. Therefore, the India delivery delay is believed to be separate from these figures

Supply figures for the vaccines were always expected to dip in April and May, according to projections published by the Scottish Government in January — before the UK had struck a deal for 10million doses from India. Therefore, the India delivery delay is believed to be separate from these figures

Britain’s daily Covid cases drop by a quarter in a week to 4,802 while deaths fall by 42% to 101

Britain yesterday saw Covid cases fall again, dropping by a quarter from last week to 4,802 positive tests in a day while deaths also dropped by 42 per cent to 101.

Two other weekly studies, by the Office for National Statistics and the Covid Symptom Study, showed cases are still coming down significantly, and the country had its best ever performance in the vaccination drive on Thursday when it administered a massive 660,276 jabs including 528,260 people getting their first.

But SAGE has warned that a resurgence of Covid in Europe could soon lead to a rise in infections in Britain, saying the country is at a ‘more fragile point’ than it was a few weeks ago.

Cases are on the rise again in countries including France, Germany and Belgium and one of No10’s top scientific advisers has warned that spikes on the continent tend to lead to a spike in Britain two to three weeks later without any obvious link to travel.

What ties the two together isn’t clear, they said, but ministers and officials in the UK must watch closely in the coming weeks to make sure infections don’t take off again.

SAGE yesterday upgraded its estimate of the R rate – how fast the virus is spreading – in Britain, pushing it closer to one to a possible 0.9, meaning the outbreak is not shrinking as quickly as it was in February and late January.

If the European Union blocked all exports of coronavirus vaccines made on its turf, Britain could remain self-sufficient and still get jabs to the entire population.

The majority of the 100million AstraZeneca jabs ordered by the UK are made at home in England and Wales, with a small 10million order from Pune, India, partially delayed this week.

In a worst-case scenario it could immunise the entire adult population (around 50million people) using the company’s jab alone.

However, it could come under pressure on second dose supply, with around 13million people have already had at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is made in Puurs, Belgium.

This means Britain has to have another 13million doses at least, in order to make sure those people are fully protected.

And it also hopes for another 14million so it can immunise the total 20million for whom doses were ordered.

AstraZeneca does have manufacturing sites in Europe, with the active ingredient behind the vaccine made in Belgium and the Netherlands and ‘fill and finish’ site in Italy, where the vaccine is put into vials.

In an unexpected blow for sun-starved Brits earlier today, Dr Mike Tildesley said there was a danger travellers could bring back new Covid variants which are less susceptible to vaccines.

The Warwick University professor, who is a member of the Spi-M modelling group, warned it means overseas jaunts for the average holidaymaker are in doubt.

Dr Tildesley told the Today programme: ‘I think that international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely.

‘I think we are running a real risk if we do start to have lots of people going overseas in July and August because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country.

‘What is really dangerous is if we jeopardise our vaccination campaign by having these variants where the vaccines don’t work as effectively spreading more rapidly.’

Dr Mike Tildesley (pictured) said there was a danger travellers could bring back new variants which are less susceptible to vaccines

Kate Bingham (pictured) hit out at Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel after they suggested the vaccines were not effective on the elderly

Left: Dr Mike Tildesley said there was a danger travellers could bring back new variants which are less susceptible to vaccines. Right: Kate Bingham hit out at Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel after they suggested the vaccines were not effective on the elderly

While Covid deaths in France have been steadily falling since last year, there are fears the trend could reverse as cases continue to rise

While Covid deaths in France have been steadily falling since last year, there are fears the trend could reverse as cases continue to rise

PM gets jab almost a year after fighting for life with Covid 

Boris Johnson’s Covid jab tonight comes almost a year after he was severely struck down with the disease.

After testing positive on March 27, 2020, the Prime Minister was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital with ‘persistent symptoms’ on April 5.

On April 6, he was moved into intensive care and was unable to carry out his prime ministerial duties, forcing Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputise.

Mr Johnson later said ‘it could have gone either way’ and paid tribute to the medics who saved him.

Pinning the blame for his vulnerability on his weight, he subsequently resolved to get fitter and started early morning runs in the grounds of Buckingham Palace as well as cutting back on his penchant for cheese and wine.

The Prime Minister has since declared he is ‘bursting with antibodies’.

Outbreaks of the South African variant in countries throughout the Continent is causing particular concern, sparking calls for tougher travel restrictions.

Some experts fear European getaways in May and potentially in the summer months – much anticipated by millions of Britons – are now a doubt.

Britain’s vaccination roll-out has been a huge success – with a record 660,276 jabs administered yesterday – but the picture in the Bloc looks different.

The EU has overseen a shambolic vaccine distribution programme and the number of positive tests is on the up in countries such as France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

The worry for British experts is that such scenes earlier in the pandemic have often foreshadowed a similar scenario in the UK.

The warning came as Britain’s vaccine tsar blasted ‘irresponsible’ European leaders for encouraging anti-vaxxers by casting doubt over AstraZeneca’s jabs.

Kate Bingham hit out at Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel after they suggested the vaccines were not effective on the elderly.

The 55-year-old former head of the Government’s vaccine task force said she ‘would not be happy to have leaders undermining a vaccine’.

Vaccine Tsar Ms Bingham told the Telegraph: ‘If I was sitting in those countries, I would not be happy to have leaders that are undermining a vaccine that could actually protect.

‘The data are coming through every day showing how effective it is in the elder people. The UK’s done really well because we’ve had astonishingly high take-up.

‘Whereas if you’ve got leaders basically saying ”I’m not taking that vaccine” it’s completely irresponsible. There’s no other word for it, actually.’

A deserted street in the French city of Nice yesterday as several areas of the country go into a new month-long lockdown

A deserted street in the French city of Nice yesterday as several areas of the country go into a new month-long lockdown

People walk over a deserted bridge in a cloudy Paris this week, where people will once again have to fill out a form to justify their movements to authorities

People walk over a deserted bridge in a cloudy Paris this week, where people will once again have to fill out a form to justify their movements to authorities

Oxford and Pfizer jabs are more effective against Brazilian variant than initially feared

The coronavirus vaccines being rolled out in Britain work better against the Brazilian variant than first feared, research suggests.

An Oxford University study found its vaccine and the jab made by Pfizer perform just as well against the P.1 strain that first emerged in Manaus as they do against the Kent variant. The vaccines, already in the arms of 25million Britons, have shown to be highly effective against the UK dominant Kent strain, reducing deaths and hospital rates by more than 85 per cent.

Scientists initially feared the P.1 variant would be resistant to vaccines because it has a number of worrying mutations on top of the ones it shares with the Kent strain. There have so far been 12 cases of the Brazilian variant in the UK – nine in England and three in Scotland. All of the patients had either direct or indirect travel links to Brazil.

A new month-long lockdown was imposed in Paris and other regions across the Channel this weekend. Scientists fearing as many as one in ten of the 35,000 daily cases reported in the French capital are the South African variant.

Officially known as B.1.351, it is the Covid strain concerning scientists most because it makes the current crop of jabs slightly less effective.

While vaccination offers some protection to Britain, there are still millions of young people who are well down the waiting list and most likely to spread the virus.

Experts are not urging the PM to change the current plan to ease restrictions but caution is being exercised and a surge could prompt a change of thought.

Meanwhile Professor Sir John Bell – part of the vaccine taskforce – slammed France for not giving the Oxford jab to under-55s after saying it was not for the elderly.

The Oxford University immunologist warned the changing advice was undermining confidence in the whole vaccination programme.

Oxford University’s Sir John warned the changing advice in France was undermining confidence in the whole vaccination programme.

He told the Today programme:’It doesn’t make any sense. The whole thing looks completely crackers. They are changing the rules almost every week.

‘They are really damaging people’s confidence in vaccines generally – not just the AstraZeneca vaccine.

‘They are sitting on a massive stockpile of vaccines that they haven’t deployed yet and at the same time they have got a massive wave of the new variants coming across the country. You couldn’t make it up.’

The Covid variants circulating in the UK: PHE hasu00A0six variants 'under investigation' - including strains from the Philippines and Antigua and several which spawned in the UK. It has four more which it describes as 'variants of concern'

The Covid variants circulating in the UK: PHE has six variants ‘under investigation’ – including strains from the Philippines and Antigua and several which spawned in the UK. It has four more which it describes as ‘variants of concern’

Kate Bingham hit out at Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel (pictured with Ursula Von der Leyen a in 2019) after they suggested the vaccines were not effective on the elderly

Kate Bingham hit out at Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel (pictured with Ursula Von der Leyen a in 2019) after they suggested the vaccines were not effective on the elderly

Ministers scramble to diffuse stand-off with India by insisting it isn’t blocking shipments

Ministers were yesterday scrambling to defuse the standoff with India over 5million missing doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, with No10 holding secret talks with New Delhi to get the roll-out back on track.

Matt Hancock yesterday admitted a delayed shipment from the Serum Institute of India was a key factor in shortages that will slow the campaign down next month, meaning millions of over-40s will have to wait until May to get their first dose.

But in front of the entire nation last night, Boris Johnson – who is due to travel to India in the coming months to secure a lucrative post-Brexit trade deal – claimed Narenda Modi’s government had ‘not stopped any exports’.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden waded into the confusion and repeated the claims of the Prime Minister, saying India was not ‘withholding vaccines’ and that the SII had ‘some supply issues’.

Asked if Mr Modi’s administration was blocking exports, Mr Dowden told LBC: ‘No. India is not withholding vaccines, and I pay tribute to the work of the Serum Institute. They have had some supply issues with 5million doses.’

It comes as one of the Government’s top scientific advisers insisted Britain’s vaccine in shortage in April won’t hamper the UK’s inoculation drive.

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, an Imperial College London epidemiologist whose grim modelling spooked ministers into the first blanket shutdown last March, dismissed fears that the hold-up could threaten plans to ease lockdown.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the delay was ‘slightly disappointing’ but insisted it shouldn’t have an ‘enormous effect’. And he added that No10 still has ‘enough’ supply to continue with the programme – which has already vaccinated almost 26million Britons.

Another Imperial scientist said it was ‘unrealistic to imagine the first dose roll-out will be as fast’. Professor Robin Shattock, who is involved in vaccine research, said the delay was ‘manageable’, however.

He added: ‘If there are clotting problems associated with the vaccines – I am not saying there are, but if there were – they are at a very tiny level compared with the problems you get if you get the disease. If you want to die of a clot, get Covid.’

Mr Macron was slammed when earlier this year he claimed the Oxford jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’ for the elderly.

Mrs Merkel also came in for criticism when she said she would not take that vaccine and said it was not to be used on over-65s.

Her claims came despite the European Medicines Agency saying they were fine for all age groups. Mrs Merkel yesterday backed down and said she would have it.

Pfizer yesterday urged the EU to back down on its threat to block vaccine exports to the UK, claiming Britain could hit back by impounding crucial UK-manufactured ingredients for vaccines produced in Europe.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen issued the warning this week amid the shambolic distribution of jabs on the continent.

She threatened to block exports of vaccines to Britain while complaining that the EU was ‘still waiting’ for Astazeneca doses to be delivered from the UK, where the vaccine drive is far outpacing efforts on the continent.

Both European and British regulators have insisted the vaccine is safe and that the tiny handful of clotting cases – out of millions of jab recipients – is not linked to the injections.

It is thought there are currently 7.5million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine sitting un-used in Europe as a result of the bans.

But Ms von der Leyen’s threat has sparked a response from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and partner BioNTech.

The firms have told Brussels of the potential power held by the UK, which could see officials preventing raw materials needed for the jab being shipped from northern England if the row continues.

A chemicals firm in the small town of Snaith, North Yorkshire, signed a five-year contract with the EU before Christmas and has since delivered ‘fatty molecules’ to Pfizer factories in the bloc, according to the Telegraph.

If Boris Johnson and his top team move to stop deliveries flowing across the Channel, it could see production at its main site in Belgium halted completely within weeks.

A senior Government source distanced themselves from the suggestion, but Pfizer and BioNTech are believed to have issued a private warning over the ramifications if Downing Street is provoked further.

Lipid nanoparticles – specialised fatty molecules used to encase the vaccine and make sure it is safely administered to human cells – are in short supply globally, and the drugmaker is said to be ‘heavily dependent’ on supplies from the UK.

Croda International is one of only a handful of companies in the world which can supply the substance and has quadrupled its factory capacity to meet demand, which it predict will generate more than £90m in sales.

A Pfizer spokesman told the Telegraph: ‘We have been clear with all stakeholders that the free movement of goods and supply across borders is absolutely critical to Pfizer and the patients we serve.’

Mr Johnson yesterday joined the millions of vaccinated Britons after receiving his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Boris Johnson yesterday joined the millions of Britons to be vaccinated after receiving his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab

Boris Johnson yesterday joined the millions of Britons to be vaccinated after receiving his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab 

No10's vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi got his first dose of a coronavirus vaccination this morning in Lewisham. He was jabbed by NHS England's director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani

No10’s vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi got his first dose of a coronavirus vaccination this morning in Lewisham. He was jabbed by NHS England’s director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani

Britain has already identified up to 351 cases of the variant, sparking surge-testing to root out other cases of the variant. This week two areas of London saw surge-testing ordered after cases of the South African variant were identified there

Britain has already identified up to 351 cases of the variant, sparking surge-testing to root out other cases of the variant. This week two areas of London saw surge-testing ordered after cases of the South African variant were identified there

The PM, 56, gave a thumbs up after having his inoculation at St Thomas’ in London – the same hospital he was admitted when struck down with Covid in April last year.

Encouraging others to also get jabbed, he said he ‘literally couldn’t feel a thing’ when his nurse, Lily, injected him in his left arm.

By receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine himself, Mr Johnson is sending the strongest possible signal he believes it to be safe following hesitancy from European leaders.

Countries including France, Germany and Italy had suspended use of the jab after a handful of recipients – out of millions – experienced blot clotting.

Faced with comparably sluggish rollouts and low take-up, their action was widely condemned as a political calculation – which has now been reversed.

HOW BADLY WOULD UK’S VACCINE DRIVE SUFFER IF THE EU BLOCKED VACCINE EXPORTS?

If the European Union blocked all exports of coronavirus vaccines made on its turf, Britain could remain self-sufficient and still get jabs to the entire population.

However, it could come under pressure on second dose supply.

EU president Ursula von der Leyen suggested this week that the bloc could start an export ban on vaccines – the second time that threat has been made – because the continent’s rollout is going so badly. 

WHICH VACCINES ARE MADE IN THE EU? 

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is currently the only vaccine used in the UK but manufactured in the EU, at the company’s plant in Puurs, Belgium.

AstraZeneca’s jab is made at home in England and Wales.

Moderna’s – which will become available in about two weeks’ time at the start of April – is produced in Switzerland, which is not an EU member and so not under von der Leyen’s jurisdiction.

The Janssen vaccine, which has not yet been approved by Britain but is likely to be next, will be made in various factories around the world, including in France, Belgium, the US and Japan. Britain’s supply is likely to come from the EU but is not expected until the second half of this year in any case.

CAN WE RELY ON ASTRAZENECA? 

The good news is that the UK has ordered so many doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab – 100million – that in a worst-case scenario it could immunise the entire adult population (around 50million people) using that one alone.

And supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in April and May will be around three to four times larger than of Pfizer and over 20 times as large as those from Moderna – at around three to four million available per week, according to a delivery schedule leaked by the Scottish Government in January – meaning the country will be able to rely on those for the vast majority of its vaccinations.

WHAT ABOUT PFIZER SECOND DOSES? 

The bad news is that around 13million people have already had at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the majority of them are still waiting for a second jab, which are likely only to come from within the EU.

This means that Britain has to have another 13million doses at least, in order to make sure those people are fully protected. 

And it also hopes for another 14million so it can immunise the total 20million for whom doses were ordered. 

Pfizer and the UK Government have both refused to comment on the supply chain but deliveries are expected to be smaller in April.

The Department of Health may have to stop using Pfizer supplies for first-time vaccinations within weeks if the spectre of export issues remains, MailOnline understands, because it must begin to stockpile supplies to cope with the huge demand for second doses that will come in April, three months after the rollout exploded in January.

The delivery projections accidentally published by the Scottish Government suggest its supplies of Pfizer will tumble from 130,000 per week throughout March to just 78,000 per week in April and May.

This could equate to approximately 1.5million per week for the whole UK dropping to 950,000 per week, according to the distribution formula used by the Government. 

The UK vaccinated more than 2.5million people per week throughout most of January and February and around half of all doses used were Pfizer, meaning the demand for second doses could exceed one million per week in April and May.

If this is the case the Government will have to use all of the projected 950,000 per week suggested in the Scottish delivery schedule while also hoping it has enough left over to meet this rolling demand – leaving little to no capacity for people to receive the Pfizer jab for the first time.

Pfizer declined to comment on its supply chain but said: ‘In the UK, we are continuing to liaise closely with the Government to deliver the 40million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we have committed to supply before the end of the year and can confirm that overall projected supply remains the same for quarter one (January to March).’

Italian PM Mario Draghi on Friday night said that he will have the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Mr Johnson added: ‘Listen to the scientists, listen to what the European Medicines Agency had to say, to what the MHRA [the British regulator] has said. ‘The risk is Covid – this is a great thing to do.’

Britain has now vaccinated over half of its adult population and the rollout yesterday hit a record pace after 660,276 doses were dished out.

Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘I’ve just received my first Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine dose. Thank you to all of the incredible scientists, NHS staff and volunteers who helped make this happen.

‘Getting the jab is the best thing we can do to get back to the lives we miss so much. Let’s get the jab done.’

Latest Department of Health data shows 528,260 first doses were administered on Thursday, on top of another 132,016 second shots.

Fellow cabinet ministers including Grant Shapps, Therese Coffey and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi have also been jabbed.

The PM’s jab will put him among the thousands of Britons expected to receive their vaccine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a ‘mammoth team effort’ had led to Britain hitting record pace, while health minister Lord Bethell pointed out it meant nearly one per cent of the country had been jabbed in a single day.

The programme had been steadily gaining pace this week, after 529,119 total doses were given out on Tuesday and 581,855 on Wednesday.

Some 26.2million Britons have now received their first dose, the equivalent of half the adult population in Britain, and 2m have received both injections.

Despite the promising week, the NHS is gearing up for a significant shortage of vaccine doses next month due to supply issues in India.

A shipment of four million AstraZeneca shots from has been delayed, for reasons that aren’t totally clear, with No10 holding secret talks with New Delhi to get the roll-out back on track.

It means Britons aged over 40 who were expecting to be called for their appointments next month will need to wait until at least May while ministers prioritise current stock for over-50s and for people due their second doses.

Meanwhile, MailOnline yesterday revealed Britain has almost stopped giving out the Pfizer Covid vaccine to new patients so it can save supplies for second doses.

The NHS in England appears to now be rationing the jab, which was used to kick off the rollout in December, and only used it for one in 10 new patients in the first week of March.

It comes after NHS figures revealed how vaccine uptake rates differed across the country, with only 60 per cent of over-55s in parts of London receiving their first doses compared to almost 90 per cent in parts of Worcestershire.

There are 21 areas of the country that have yet to hit more than 70 per cent of this age group, and 17 of them are in London.

For comparison, the Isles of Scilly has vaccinated 822 of its 876 over-55s — giving it an uptake of 93.8 per cent — and Stafford, Mid Suffolk and the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire have all jabbed more than 89 per cent. 

Uptake figures are based on the latest population estimates by Public Health England’s National Immunisation Management Service (NIMS).

Officials insist vaccines are divvied out evenly across the country, suggesting poor uptake is to blame. Health chiefs are concerned about high levels of vaccine hesitancy among black and ethnic minorities, fuelled by anti-vaxx messages on social media. 

England’s vaccine roll-out was widened to over-50s this week but a shortfall in the vaccine supply next month is expected to mean millions of over-40s won’t be inoculated until May.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock this week revealed supplies would be used to mop up the over-50s who haven’t already been jabbed, while ensuring Britons don’t miss out on crucial top-ups. Diverting supplies to inner-city neighbourhoods with low uptake rates will stop areas leading the way from moving down the priority list. 

MailOnline’s analysis of the latest vaccine statistics shows most parts of the country are well on their way to achieving the target of offering first doses to all over-50s by April 15.

But most of the capital is seriously lagging behind in the roll-out to over-55s, with more than half a million in the age group yet to receive a jab in London.

Uptake was worst in Hackney (59.2 per cent), Newham (60.2 per cent), Kensington and Chelsea (61.1 per cent), Southwark (61.3 per cent) and Westminster (61.4 per cent). Nearly 90,000 over-55s still have to come forward for a jab in those boroughs alone.

On the other end of the spectrum, 35 areas of the country have vaccinated more than 85 per cent of people in that age group.

The Isles of Scilly, Stafford, Mid Suffolk and Wyre Forest had jabbed more than 89 per cent, followed by the Isle of Wight (88.7 per cent), Wyre (88.3 per cent), Babergh (87.9 per cent), Malvern Hills (87.4 per cent) and Harborough (87.2 per cent).  

East Suffolk has vaccinated 88.5 per cent of its over-55s despite being one of the very few local authorities in the country to have more than 100,000 people in the age group. 

The data also showed just 64 per cent of carers working in people’s homes have taken up the offer of the vaccine.

Uptake among the group — who work with the most vulnerable people in society — is lowest in Barnet in north London (28.5 per cent), Barnsley in south Yorkshire (29.3 per cent) and Bath and North East Somerset (29.3 per cent).  

Meanwhile, official data suggests Britain has almost stopped giving out the Pfizer Covid vaccine to new patients so it can save supplies for second doses.

The NHS appears to now be rationing the jab, which was used to kick off the rollout in December, and only used it for one in 10 new patients in the first week of March.

In January, when AstraZeneca’s vaccine first got approved, Pfizer’s still accounted for three quarters of all first doses but this fell to just nine per cent in the first week of March, when only 200,000 new patients were given it.

MailOnline understands deliveries of the Belgian-made jab will be smaller from April because of a planned reduction and there is also a risk the EU will try to rescue its shambolic roll-out and try to block shipments from reaching the UK.

Ministers must be careful with the supply they do get because they’re already over halfway through supplies planned up to June – and they owe around 10m people a second dose.

The Department of Health said everyone will get their second doses within 12 weeks as planned. Both the Department and Pfizer declined to comment on the delivery schedule but insist there is no problem with supplies, amid reports on social media of Britons being told there is a shortage.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is available in much larger quantities, is now taking over as the country’s staple vaccine as medics rattle through the priority lists.

But a hiccup in supplies of that because of a blocked shipment of 5million doses from India – combined with a need to reserve Pfizer stocks – means the number of people getting first doses will be ‘significantly constrained’ in April, the NHS has warned.

This means millions of people in their 40s will likely have to wait until at least May to get their first doses. But Whitehall insiders are still hopeful that some will get jabs ahead of schedule, amid claims under-50s would be invited by Easter.

Figures in the MHRA’s Yellow Card reports, which record people’s reactions to the vaccines, show that the proportion of first jabs that are Pfizer’s has tumbled.

While 78 per cent of all first doses were Pfizer jabs between December 8 and January 24, this split reversed between February 7 and March 7 so that it only accounted for 34 per cent.

The vaccine was used for 1.2million first doses between December 8 and January 4 before Oxford’s got approval.

AstraZeneca’s came into use on January 4 but by January 24, Pfizer’s still accounted for 78 per cent of all first doses – 5.4m out of a total 6.9m.

Come February, when AstraZeneca’s was being churned out at a rate of 2million per week, the proportion of new patients who were getting Pfizer’s jab started to come down but it remained a mainstay of the rollout.

It had accounted for 60 per cent by February 7, when AstraZeneca started to gain ground.

Weekly data available from early February shows the proportion of weekly first-dose vaccines that were Pfizer ranged between 30 and 50 per cent in February.

But it then plummeted to just nine per cent in the first week of March, when only 200,000 people out of 2.2million were given the Pfizer jab.

In that most recent week the number of second doses was about equal to the number of first doses, suggesting a pivot in the way the jab is being used.

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Vaccines will save thousands of lives and reduce hospitalisations and any vaccine approved by the MHRA is proven to be both safe, and effective.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk