Jeremy Selwyn / AP
The British government has announced that every adult in the UK will be offered a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of July, a month earlier than originally planned. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the fast-track target will allow vulnerable people to be protected “sooner,” which should help ease the lifting of lockdown restrictions across the country.
Senior ministers met to discuss the plan on Sunday. Johnson will unveil the plan to ease restrictions in the House of Commons on Monday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC that around a third of UK adults, around 17 million people, have already been vaccinated. The new goal also calls on everyone over 50 or with an underlying health condition to get vaccinated by April 15, rather than the previous goal of May 1.
The UK uses both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Britain is delaying the administration of second doses of vaccine for up to 12 weeks after the first in order to rapidly give as many people as possible partial protection, according to the Associated Press. Although the move is supported by science advisers in the UK, Pfizer says it does not have data to support the delay.
The UK was the first country in the world to grant emergency clearance for a COVID-19 vaccine. Still, the government has been widely criticized for its handling of the pandemic, which has left more than 120,000 dead, the highest toll in Europe.
The country is more than a month into its third nationwide lockdown, leaving businesses and schools closed. The prime minister is under increasing pressure to ease the lockdown in order to help move the country’s struggling economy.
The latest lockdown was spurred by rapidly spreading variants of the coronavirus, including one from South Africa that overwhelmed UK hospitals. Hancock said the number of variant cases from South Africa was down from a month ago.
“The latest data shows that there are a dozen new ones, so a much, much smaller number, and every time we find a new one, we absolutely suppress it,” he says.
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