UK’s Covid vaccine drive set to drastically pick up pace from 15 March

Britain’s coronavirus vaccine drive should drastically pick up pace from March 15 because supplies will ‘increase substantially’, NHS bosses have revealed.

The programme, which is crucial to Britain’s hopes of seeing lockdown eased over the next few months, slowed down in February due to manufacturing issues.

Ministers promised March would be a ‘bumper’ month for the roll-out, with the NHS racing to vaccinate as many people as possible by the end of the month before millions of second doses must be prioritised.

Health chiefs have now told local Covid vaccination teams to get prepared for extra supplies, hinting the UK may get almost 5million doses a week from next Thursday — double the amount it is currently receiving.

NHS sites have also been told to ensure extra staff and volunteers are ready to help scale up the operation from March 15 and re-offer jabs to anyone who has yet to be jabbed. 

In a letter to local leaders, bosses also revealed plans to clamp down on regional disparities in the roll-out, with the programme having descended into a ‘postcode lottery’. 

Some parts of the country have already began dishing out jabs to healthy people in their twenties and thirties. 

Writing in the letter, senior officer for vaccine deployment Emily Lawson and director for primary care Dr Nikita Kanani reiterated patients not included in the current roll-out should only be invited in ‘very limited circumstances to avoid wastage’. 

They wrote: ‘Local systems have made an impressive start to the Covid vaccination programme. However, there is geographical variation between and within local areas. 

‘As we continue to progress vaccination in line with the JCVI cohorts, it is important all vaccination providers focus on ensuring maximum cohort penetration, inviting patients outside the cohort only in very limited circumstances to avoid wastage.’

The letter says a national advertising blitz will ‘commence shortly’ to remind Brits about the importance of getting their second dose of vaccine.

‘Crude’ and flawed formula used to divvy up Covid vaccine supplies around the UK 

A ‘crude’ and controversial algorithm is being used to divvy up Covid jab supplies around the UK, MailOnline can reveal.

Department of Health bosses today confirmed officials deployed the Barnett formula to decide how many doses should be allocated to the devolved nations. 

The method — used in the Treasury since the 1980s to distribute public funding — is widely recognised as being flawed because it looks almost solely at population size. 

The Taxpayers’ Alliance pressure group previously described the formula as a ‘crude, back-of-the-envelope rule’ because it doesn’t consider different needs in different areas. 

It also doesn’t account for a range of other factors, such as the number of elderly people, rates of poverty and ill health — all of which make people vulnerable to Covid and bump them up the vaccine priority list. 

The decision to use the strategy means England is receiving 84.1 per cent of vaccine shipments from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, Scotland 8.3 per cent, Wales 4.8 per cent and Northern Ireland 2.9 per cent. 

A source told MailOnline that the devolved nations agreed that, despite its flaws, the Barnett formula was ‘the most efficient method of vaccine allocation across the UK’, given the urgency of the pandemic.  

Public health experts said the UK’s jab allocation strategy ‘should have been stratified’ so areas with larger elderly populations, like Wales, got more doses quicker.

But Professor Gabriel Scally, former director of public health for the South West of England, told MailOnline the success of the roll-out had ‘probably nullified’ any flaws in the Government’s approach. 

Despite fears the Barnett formula could lead to some areas lagging behind due to fewer supplies of vaccines, latest official figures show the home nations are jabbing at roughly the same rate. 

Scotland has already given first doses to 97 per cent of over-70s, while England and Wales have jabbed 96 and 92 per cent of elderly residents, respectively. Equivalent age-related data for Northern Ireland is not yet available.    

Experts said the slightly lower uptake in Wales’ uptake was unlikely to be significant enough to be attributed to the formula.

More than 20million people across the UK have been given the initial injection and 800,000 have received both doses. 

A successful roll-out and high uptake is at the heart of Boris Johnson’s lockdown-easing plans, with a smooth programme essential to restrictions being relaxed fully by June. 

A UK Government spokesperson said: ‘We have secured and purchased vaccines on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom.

‘And with over 20million people already vaccinated nationwide, the vaccines programme underlines the strength of our great union and what we can achieve together.’

Currently fewer than 1m of the 21m vaccinated people in the UK have been given their second injection after ministers delayed the top-up jab for 12 weeks to get wider coverage quicker.

There will be higher demand for second doses beginning later in March because the programme is now three months in. 

Numerous studies showing that a single dose is highly effective but scientists believe the protection from the first shot may wane if people don’t get their follow-up.

NHS vaccination teams are also being asked to ‘redouble’ efforts to target the vulnerable who have not come forward for their jabs yet.

The letter urges local leaders to set up ‘pop up’ vaccination centres at places of worship or other community sites where some people may ‘feel more welcome’. 

Vaccine hesitancy is particularly high in black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) groups, which is thought to be due to a lack of trust in Government. 

The letter adds: ‘We ask all systems to use these and other interventions to redouble effort and ensure all eligible frontline health and social care workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and clinical vulnerable, as well as unpaid carers and those aged 60 and over are offered a vaccination. 

‘Bookings can be made through the National Booking System into community pharmacies or vaccination centres… and local communication plans should be used to encourage uptake through all options.’

However, the NHS has warned that vaccine supplies will be limited next week due to the February slump in production at Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s manufacturing sites. 

It said that during that week, sites will focus on getting the vaccine to those ‘whom delivery is more complex and time-sensitive’, such as housebound patients.

‘It provides an opportunity for all sites to end the week in a near-zero stock position’, the letter said. 

It comes after a University of Bristol study today found one dose of the Covid jabs being deployed in Britain are up to 80 per cent effective at stopping already-ill elderly people from being hospitalised with the disease.

Earlier this week, the first real-world analysis of the Oxford and Pfizer jabs in England found a single injection prevented eight in 10 over-80s from falling severely sick with the virus.

The Bristol study suggests the first dose works just as well in people of the same age who also have multiple underlying health woes.

Scientists said the results were significant because they were in people least expected to be protected by the vaccine. 

They found the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab prevented around 80.4 per cent of patients from being hospitalised with Covid two weeks after the first dose. A single shot of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine was estimated to be 79.3 per cent effective after 14 days. 

Researchers looked at 460 over-80s who had pneumonia or lung diseases, both of which make them extremely vulnerable to Covid. Many also had other conditions which drove up their risk even further.

Professor Adam Finn, a medical expert at Bristol who led the research and a member of the UK’s top vaccine advisory panel, said he expects the effectiveness of the jabs to be even higher in younger age groups.

Age is the biggest risk factor for the coronavirus and the vast majority of deaths and hospitalisations are in elderly people, which is why the UK prioritised jabs for over-80s and care home residents.

But having underlying health conditions also drives up the risk of the virus, which is why Britons with conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes came after the elderly on the priority list.