Coronavirus UK: Nadhim Zahawi says NHS vaccine speed will double in March

UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said today that the NHS rollout could double in speed over the next 11 weeks, allowing it to continue vaccinating new people at the same rate as now while also dishing out growing numbers of second doses

Britain’s Covid inoculation rollout could go at twice its current speed over the next three months, No10’s vaccine minister claimed today.

Nadhim Zahawi promised March will be a ‘very big month’ for the programme, which slowed down in February because vaccine manufacturers struggled to keep pace with the NHS’s demand.

But with supply issues resolved and tens of millions more jabs becoming available in March, the health service is planning to turbocharge the drive, which must go smoothly if Britain has any hopes of leaving lockdown in the next few months.

Boris Johnson has laid out his ambition to vaccine all over-50s – half of the UK population – at least once by April 15, and to offer a jab to every adult in Britain by the end of July. 

The UK this weekend hit the milestone of vaccinating 20million people and England today expanded the scheme to officially invite everyone aged 60 or over to come forward.

If the programme can work double-time in March, it could mean those who got their first vaccines in December and early January could get their top-up jab while giving the NHS room to inoculate another 20million people.

Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast today: ‘March will be a very big month for us. We’ll probably going to be twice the rate over the next 10 weeks as we have done over the past 10 or 11 weeks.’

Despite the roll-out in England having only just officially opened up to over-60s, some younger people are lucking out and scooping up spare doses of the jab that are left behind by appointment no-shows. Even healthy people in their 20s claim they have had vaccines already because local clinics have had doses going spare at the end of the day.

The UK this weekend hit the milestone of vaccinating 20million people and today expanded the scheme to invite everyone aged 60 or over to come forward

The UK this weekend hit the milestone of vaccinating 20million people and today expanded the scheme to invite everyone aged 60 or over to come forward

Fears Brazilian Covid variant could derail UK’s lockdown exit plans

Fears were raised today that the Brazil variant could derail the exit from lockdown as ministers pleaded for a missing UK patient who tested positive for the coronavirus strain to come forward.

A huge hunt is under way after health officials admitted that they have no idea who the infected person is, where they were tested or where they have gone.

The authorities have revealed that six cases of the P.1 variant first detected in the Amazonian city of Manaus have been confirmed in Britain – three in England and three in Scotland.

Two were confirmed in South Gloucestershire but the third English case has not been located and could be anywhere in the nation because they failed to fill in their details when they were tested for Covid.

In a round of interviews this morning, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi tried to calm anxiety over the dramatic developments. Experts believe that the strain can sidestep existing antibodies to some degree, potentially raising questions about the effectiveness of current jabs.

Mr Zahawi appealed for anyone who was tested on February 12 or 13 and has not received a result, or had an incomplete test registration card, to come forward.

It is possible the individual may not even know they were ill, with speculation it was either a home testing kit or part of ‘surge’ screening.

Meanwhile, scientists have raised alarm that if the variant takes hold in the UK it could ‘slow things down’ in the fight to escape lockdown restrictions as it makes vaccines ‘so much less potent’.

And the government is facing questions over why it did not act earlier to tighten up the borders – with warnings that foreign holidays will not be possible this summer.

Mr Zahawi on Breakfast today reassured people they would begin getting invites for their second vaccine doses soon, and that there were enough supplies for everyone to get another jab of the same type as the first one.

He said: ‘We have already been for now over 10 days reserving second doses. You have seen the numbers tick up of second doses – yesterday I think we were at 800,000 second doses.

‘And in March you will see that number increase even more, because obviously those who had the first dose in January will be getting their second dose. The NHS have got all the protocols in place to deliver that, as well as of course continuing to do the first dose.’

It is thought Mr Zahawi meant to say people who got their jab before January, or during the first week of the year, because of the 12-week gap between doses.

He added: ‘March will be a very big month for us. We’ll probably going to be twice the rate over the next 10 weeks as we have done over the past 10 or 11 weeks.’

Britain is expected to receive the first batches of a third approved vaccine, made by US company Moderna, in the coming weeks.

Nearly two million people aged between 60 and 63 in England will be invited to receive their first coronavirus jab from today, while over-40s will start being called for jabs later this month.

Officials will send out 1.9million letters to those over 60 inviting them to book a coronavirus jab, meaning that by the end of the week everyone in the top seven priority groups — including clinically vulnerable younger people and those with underlying conditions — will have been contacted.

NHS England said the programme, which has been proceeding at breakneck speed, will then move to offer jabs to around 5million people in their 50s as soon as next week, which should take two weeks to deliver.

With about 2.5million people receiving their first dose of the vaccine per week, Britain is on course to offer jabs to everyone over the age of 50 by the week beginning March 15 — almost a month before its target. The over-40s are then expected to receive invitations later this month. 

But Britain’s vaccine roll-out has become a postcode lottery, with younger people already getting their vaccines by lucking out when doses are going spare at their local clinics.

People even in their 20s have managed to scoop up a jab ahead of schedule by being in the right place at the right time.

Rishi Sunak will fund trials into whether extra vaccine shot could benefit patients 

Trials to establish whether people would benefit from having a third dose of Covid vaccine will be given funding in the Budget.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will provide the vaccination programme with an additional £1.65billion on Wednesday, aimed largely at ensuring that the target of offering the jab to all adults by the end of July is met or exceeded.

The cash will include £22million to fund a UK trial of a ‘mix and match’ vaccine strategy, where volunteers will be given first and second doses of different jabs.

The trial will also examine whether there is any value in giving people a third dose of the vaccine.

There will be £33million for a new fund to help test, analyse and deal with new variants, while £5million will be allocated to create a ‘library’ of vaccines at the Centre for Process Innovation in Darlington, County Durham, for work against different variants.

The vaccination scheme, which yesterday passed the milestone of giving a first dose to 20 million people, is seen as central to the government’s plan to reopen the economy.

Twitter user Tracey Spencer claimed her 27-year-old son, a police officer, managed to get a Covid jab in February because the local clinic had jabs ‘left at the end of the day by non takers’.

Cobain Schofield, a 26-year-old in Liverpool, told The Sunday Times he had got a vaccine when a colleague told him some were going spare at the local clinic. 

He said: ‘There was something of a movie cliché moment where everyone looks at each other before jumping in their cars and going… I didn’t want to be taking it from someone who should be getting it. When I arrived I asked the clerk if they were genuinely spare, and she replied, “Yes, there are lots”.’

And Bridget Burke said in a tweet that her husband received a spare vaccine despite not being on the priority list. She said: ‘I was so grateful they agreed to vaccinate him. The roll out is amazing.’  

It comes after scientists revealed that just one shot of either jab currently being deployed in Britain reduces the risk of being hospitalised by Covid by more than 90 per cent.  

Public health officials have told ministers that the remarkable results apply for both Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, with the British jab proving slightly more effective.

And in another huge boost to Britain’s world-beating vaccine, 386,948 additional vaccine doses were registered in England on Saturday, with 27,876 in Scotland and 14,634 in Wales, tipping the number of total people vaccinated past the 20million milestone. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on social media that it was a ‘huge national achievement’ and praised the NHS staff, volunteers and armed forces for their work in the vaccine rollout.

He tweeted: ’20million people across the UK have now got the jab – a huge national achievement and a testament to the tireless work of NHS staff, volunteers, the Armed Forces & many more. I urge everyone to get the jab when called. Every jab makes a difference in our battle against Covid.’ 

EU nations including Germany are being far outpaced by Britain in the vaccine race after Brussels was late to place orders with firms including Pfizer and AstraZeneca

EU nations including Germany are being far outpaced by Britain in the vaccine race after Brussels was late to place orders with firms including Pfizer and AstraZeneca 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said vaccinating more than 20million people against coronavirus across the UK is a ‘magnificent achievement for the country’.

In a video on his Twitter, Mr Hancock said: ‘I’m absolutely delighted that over 20million people have now been vaccinated across the UK – it’s absolutely fantastic.

‘I want to thank every single person who’s come forward to get the jab because we know with increasing confidence that the jab protects you, it protects your community and it also is the route out of this for all of us.’

Mr Hancock urged everyone eligible for the vaccine to come forward and added: ‘Every jab in the arm is another life soon to be protected from this awful disease and means we are a step closer to returning to our normal lives.’ 

Mr Zahawi tweeted: ‘BINGO! One Score over 20,000,000 people have had the vaccination (1s dose). What an achievement for February 2021. What a team! Proud to be with you on this journey.’ 

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘Vaccinating 20million people – including 17million across England – in a few short weeks shows the NHS vaccination campaign is firing on all cylinders, and looking out to Easter and beyond it’s full speed ahead.

‘As we can see from other parts of the world, having vaccines from the manufacturers versus actually administering them to patients can be two different things.

‘So this latest milestone is also a tribute to careful health service planning, effective organisation and amazing teamwork across the whole of the country.’

It comes after Prince William urged Britons to ignore conspiracy theories about the supposed dangers of the vaccine, warning of ‘rumours and misinformation’ on social media. 

The Duke of Cambridge issued the warning during a video call with his wife Kate to two clinically vulnerable women who have been shielding with their families since March.

A Mail on Sunday investigation into the poor take-up among some ethnic minorities found people are falling for lies and conspiracy theories spread online. 

The new one-dose vaccination figures were calculated by comparing Covid hospitalisation rates in those who have received their first dose with those of a similar age who haven’t.

It helps to explain why the numbers being hospitalised are falling so rapidly in the oldest age groups.

Deaths among the over-75s have dropped by 40 per cent, while the number of over-85s being admitted to intensive care units with Covid has dropped close to zero.

The strong results for the Oxford vaccine are a rebuke to the German authorities, which last month advised against its use in the over-65s.

The Duke of Cambridge’s remarks on vaccinations come after the Queen suggested last week that it was selfish to refuse a jab.

William and Kate spoke to mother of two Shivali Modha, who has type 2 diabetes, and said she was anxious about her vaccine after reading claims on social media.

In a video call, the Duke told her: ‘Catherine and I are not medical experts by any means but if it’s any consolation we can wholeheartedly support having vaccinations. It’s really, really important.

‘We’ve spoken to a lot of people about it and the uptake has been amazing so far.

‘We’ve got to keep it going so the younger generations also feel that it’s really important for them to have it.

‘So it’s great that, Shivali, you’re taking the time to work it out and come to the conclusion that ‘I need to do this’ because social media is awash sometimes with lots of rumours and misinformation, so we have to be a bit careful who we believe and where we get our information from. Especially for those who are clinically vulnerable as well, it’s so important that those vaccinations are done, so good luck.’

The Duke and Duchess also spoke to Fiona Doyle, 37 – an asthma sufferer – and her seven-year-old daughter Ciara, who have been shielding at home in Finchley, North London, since the crisis began.

She spoke of her anxiety ‘knowing that there was this virus out there that was incredibly dangerous for me. It was really difficult.’

The challenges facing the NHS were made clear by one GP who told the MoS of his battle to persuade one of his surgery’s receptionists to have the inoculation. 

The doctor, who works at a busy South of England group practice which is co-ordinating vaccinations for the local area, explained: ‘She said that she didn’t want to have it.

‘So one evening I sat down with her and talked through her concerns for 20 minutes. I explained all about how rigorously the vaccine had been tested, how safe it is and how important it was that as many people as possible have it.

‘Not to mention the fact that she was working at a surgery where we are seeing lots of elderly and vulnerable people every day.

‘But there was just no convincing her. She told me that the vaccine was something ‘foreign’ and she didn’t want it going in her body. And that was the end of that.’

A survey by the Harrow Association of Somali Voluntary Organisations suggested only half of its community plan to take the vaccine – even though more than three-quarters knew someone who had died from the disease and barely any doubted its dangers. 

Organisers said they were shocked by the results. 

The vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is stunningly effective at preventing recipients becoming seriously ill from Covid-19, new analysis shows.

It is even better than the Pfizer jab at stopping people getting so sick that they need to be admitted to hospital, Ministers have been told.

A single shot of either jab cuts the chance of needing hospital treatment by more than 90 per cent, ‘real world’ results from the NHS vaccination programme show.

But the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, shunned by millions across Europe because of concerns over trial data, is proving slightly more effective at stopping severe Covid-19 illness than the Pfizer jab.

Its apparent superiority even holds among over-70s, The Mail on Sunday understands, vindicating the UK drug regulator’s decision to approve it for use in older people.

The results are a massive boost not just for Oxford and AstraZeneca, but also the Government. Ministers have ordered 100 million doses, making it the workhorse of the NHS vaccination campaign.

The landmark results will add to growing confidence that vaccination is breaking the link between infections and deaths.

The figures were calculated by comparing Covid hospitalisation rates across England in those who have received a first dose of vaccine in the NHS rollout, to those of a similar age who have not.

They follow a Scottish study of Covid hospitalisation rates, published last week, which came to similar conclusions. 

Edinburgh University researchers found that by the fourth week after injection, ‘the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19 by up to 85 per cent and 94 per cent, respectively’.

Among over-80s, who are at highest risk of severe illness, a single dose cut the risk of needing hospital treatment by 81 per cent from week four onwards, when the results from both types were combined.

Well-placed sources said the larger English study found hospitalisation rates in over-70s were slightly lower among recipients of the Oxford vaccine than those who got the Pfizer drug. 

Last month, German authorities advised against using the Oxford vaccine in over-65s, citing lack of evidence of effectiveness from formal trials. The trials were dogged by low numbers of older volunteers.

French President Emmanuel Macron then caused consternation by falsely claiming the Oxford vaccine was ‘quasi-ineffective’ for over-65s – although he has since rowed back by saying he would have it.

In a subtle riposte to European critics, Professor Sarah Gilbert, who spearheaded Oxford’s Covid vaccine project, said real-world data ‘now provides evidence of high effectiveness of both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines in preventing hospitalisation in people over the age of 80, after a single dose, supporting our confidence in using this vaccine in adults of all ages.’

The results are already having a stunning impact on Covid statistics, which show hospitalisations and deaths falling fastest among Britain’s oldest people. 

Deaths in over-75s – almost all of whom have now had their first jab – fell 40 per cent in the last week. By contrast, they fell 23 per cent in under-65s, who remain largely unvaccinated. 

The number of Covid admissions to intensive care units among over-85s has also dropped to near zero in the last couple of weeks, Public Health England reports indicate.

In another boost for Oxford, new evidence also indicates one dose of its vaccine provides more durable protection. Updated trial results show that from three weeks to three months after first dose, the vaccine was 76 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection and ‘protection did not wane’.

Protection from one Pfizer dose dipped from 84 per cent five weeks after injection, to 58 per cent after more than six weeks.

Last night it emerged that Germany is reconsidering its recommendation on the Oxford vaccine.

Professor Thomas Mertens, head of the country’s vaccination commission, said there will be ‘a new, updated recommendation very soon’, the newspaper Der Spiegel reported.

He also lamented the fallout from their January decision, saying they ‘never criticised the vaccine’, only the lack of data in over-65s. He added: ‘However, the whole thing went somehow bad.’  

The NHS vaccine programme is already having an impact on the number of people being hospitalised due to Covid-19

As well as reducing the number of hospitalisations, the number of deaths is also falling since the widespread rollout of the vaccine among the elderly

The NHS vaccine programme is already having an impact on the number of people being hospitalised due to Covid-19