LONDON (AP) – The UK government said on Sunday that every adult in the country should receive a first coronavirus vaccine by July 31, at least a month ahead of its previous target, as it prepares to make a ‘cautious plan To ease the UK lockdown.
The new goal also aims to ensure that all people 50 years of age and over and those with an underlying health condition receive their first of two vaccines by April 15, rather than the previous date of May 1.
The makers of the two vaccines Britain uses, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have both experienced supply problems in Europe. But UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that “we now think we have the supplies” to speed up the vaccination campaign.
The early success of the British vaccination effort is good news for a country which has recorded more than 120,000 deaths from coronavirus, the highest toll in Europe. More than 17.2 million people, or a third of the country’s adults, have received at least one injection of the vaccine since vaccinations began on December 8.
Britain is delaying administration of second doses of vaccine for up to 12 weeks after the first, rather than three to four weeks, in order to quickly give partial protection to more people. The approach has been criticized in some countries – and by Pfizer, which says it does not have data to support the gap – but it is supported by science advisers to the UK government.
News of the new vaccine targets came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with senior ministers on Sunday to finalize a “road map” to get out of the national lockdown he plans to announce on Monday.
Faced with a dominant virus variant that scientists consider to be both more transmissible and deadly than the original virus, Britain has spent much of the winter under strict lockdown. Bars, restaurants, gymnasiums, schools, hair salons and all non-essential stores have been closed; grocery stores, pharmacies and take-out restaurants are always open.
The government has stressed that economic and social reopenings will be slow and cautious, with non-essential purchases or outdoor gatherings unlikely before April. Many children will be returning to school on March 8, and residents of nursing homes will be able to receive a visitor on the same date.
Johnson’s Conservative government has been accused of reopening the country too quickly after the first lockout in the spring. The number of new confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths is down in February but remains high, and Johnson says his roadmap for reopening will follow “data, not dates.”
But he is under pressure from some conservative lawmakers, who argue that restrictions should be lifted quickly to revive an economy that was hammered by three lockdowns last year.
John Edmunds, a member of the government’s science advisory group, said UK hospitals are still treating around 20,000 coronavirus patients, half of the January peak but almost as high as the height of the first outbreak last spring.
“If we were to calm down very quickly now, we would have a further increase in hospitalizations” and deaths, he told the BBC.
Edmunds said there was additional uncertainty due to new virus variants, including one identified in South Africa that may be more resistant to current vaccines.
Hancock told Sky News the government would take a “cautious but irreversible approach” to reopening the economy.
Despite the success of Europe’s fastest vaccination campaign, the UK government has been accused of failing to protect people with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus.
The Office for National Statistics found that 60% of people who died from coronavirus in England in 2020 had a physical or mental disability. But many people with disabilities, except those with “severe or profound” learning disabilities, have not been placed in a priority group for vaccination.
Well-known BBC radio DJ Jo Whiley on Sunday highlighted the plight of her 53-year-old sister Frances, who has a learning disability. Whiley said her sister contracted the coronavirus during an outbreak at her care home, whose residents had not been vaccinated.
Whiley said her sister finally got a shot of the vaccine – but it came too late.
“She was actually called in for her vaccine last night. My mom got a message saying she could get the shot, but it’s too late, she’s fighting for her life, ”Whiley told the BBC. “It couldn’t be more cruel.
Track all of AP’s pandemic coverage on https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic,https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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