The UK has administered a new record daily number of second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine as the jabs rollout continues to run at a rate of nearly three million a week despite forecasts of a shortfall in supply over April.
Another 475,230 second doses were reported on Sunday – the third day in a row that the figure has beaten its previous record. The number of first doses was 111,109, well below the levels seen in previous weeks with the bulk of supplies used to ensure that no one misses out of getting their second dose on time.
Last month NHS executives warned local vaccination teams to expect a slump in vaccines supply in April compared to what was previously expected, and ordered them not to invite anyone under 50 for a first jab unless they have an underlying medical condition.
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Over the Easter weekend the overall pace of the vaccination programme fell to its lowest level so far this year, prompting fears the roll-out may have slowed down significantly. But it has now rebounded to roughly the same speed as previous months, suggesting the blip was due to the bank holiday rather than supply problems. There is no sign in the statistics of a fall in take-up following the change of advice on the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab amid fears of rare blood clots.
More than 32 million people across the UK have had their first dose – enough to cover everyone over 50, all health and care workers and those with pre-existing conditions, although a small proportion of the jabs have gone to healthy under-50s instead. Over seven million people – mostly NHS staff and those over 75 – have had both doses of the vaccine, which accounts for one in nine of the population as a whole.
“Phase two” of the vaccination roll-out will not formally begin in England until later this month at the earliest. Ministers and health service leaders say that all available supplies should be used as second doses for those who had their first jab 10-12 weeks ago, or a first doses for people in the priority groups who previously missed out on a vaccine or chose not to accept the offer but have now changed their mind.
The situation at vaccine centres across the country appears to vary depending on local clinicians’ interpretation of the nationwide rules. Some clinics are accepting “walk-in” requests from people of all ages to avoid wasting doses, while others have been told they must destroy any vaccines which cannot be given to priority groups and some are said to have cancelled appointments at short notice because of low supplies.
The Government is only likely to open the national booking system for younger groups, starting with those aged 40-49, when ministers are confident that practically all those who are older or vulnerable have had the chance to get their first dose. After the vaccinations watchdog advised that under-30s should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab, centres will also need to reserve stocks of Pfizer and Moderna for the youngest group rather than administering them to people in their 30s and 40s.
British diplomats are continuing to negotiate with India and the EU in a bid to boost the UK’s supplies with imports from the Serum Institute of India and a factory in the Netherlands. Both administrations are pressuring manufacturers to prioritise local supply ahead of exports.