Four key pieces of data as the UK hits 15m vaccinations target
Jab campaign extends to over-65s and some younger people after most at-risk receive first dose
The UK’s vaccine campaign is being expanded to include over-65s and younger people in vulnerable groups from today after hitting an initial target to administer 15 million first doses to the most at risk.
Boris Johnson said that the country had achieved “an extraordinary feat” in having delivered coronavirus jabs “into the arms” of members of the top four priority groups in less than ten weeks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock added that he was “so proud of the team” for “this fantastic milestone in our battle against Covid-19” - but cautioned that there was “no rest for the wicked” as the vaccine campaign continues.
A “clear takeaway” from government data is that the progress of the rollout is varying across the nation, says The Telegraph. “Some areas have pulled significantly ahead since the UK’s vaccine race began at the end of last year, while others are lagging behind.”
London is struggling to keep up with other regions, with latest figures indicating that around one in ten people aged 70 and over in the capital would not have received their first dose by today.
Only 76.3% of the over-70s in the East London Health and Care Partnership had received a first dose as of 7 February, compared with 84.1% in the South West London Health and Care Partnership and 86% nationally.
The contrast between England and Scotland is also stark. By the end of January, 13% of adults in Scotland had received a first dose, compared with 18% in England. However, “broadly speaking” every nation has now given a first dose to at least one in four adults, the paper adds.
While the pace of the UK rollout has drawn praise, data suggests that uptake among ethnic minority groups is lower than that for the population as a whole.
An analysis of official figures last week by the University of Oxford and the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested that black people aged over 80 were almost half as likely as their white peers to have been vaccinated against Covid.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that the government was “very concerned” about the low uptake among ethnic minority groups, “especially Afro-Caribbean, black communities and of course other Asian and BAME communities”.
The trend is especially worrying because research suggest that members of these groups are among the most at risk of dying after contracting Covid.
“If one particular community remains unvaccinated then the virus will seek them out and it will go through that community like wildfire,” Zahami warned.
The rollout of the NHS Test and Trace system was hit by a series of problems after being outsourced to consultants and contractors. But NHS England boss Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England, “chose a different approach” after being tasked with delivering the country’s biggest ever mass vaccination campaign, says the Financial Times (FT) - and achieved very different results.
“Rather than creating a new system”, the paper continues, “he used existing groups of GPs, known as primary care networks (PCNs), which each cover up to 50,000 patients, as his main conduit”.
These PCNs “commit to vaccinating for 12 hours a day, seven days a week”. In addition, around 1,500 vaccination centres were established in England staffed by 30,000 NHS workers and as many as 100,000 volunteers.
And to make sure the operation ran smoothly, Stevens also turned to the Army. A total of 50 military logistics experts were installed at the NHS headquarters in south London and asked to calculate “the optimum location of centres to ensure every UK resident could access a jab within ten miles of home”.
Judging the impact
The full impact of the jabs campaign is “expected to appear in the next few weeks when scientists compare death rates among carefully matched vaccinated and unvaccinated patients”, The Guardian reports.
“Given that it takes three weeks for protection to build after the first shot, and that there is a time lag between infection and dying, the full effect of vaccinating the top four groups will not be clear until March.”
In an article for The Spectator in mid-January, John Roberts of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group said that based on their modelling, a 15% reduction in Covid cases could be reasonably expected by mid-March, along with a 60% fall in hospital admissions and an 88% drop in coronavirus deaths.
Optimism has also been boosted by an Israeli study covering 1.2 million vaccinated and non-vaccinated people that found the Pfizer jab caused a 94% drop in the rate of symptomatic infection and a 92% fall in the rate of serious illness in subjects who had been inoculated.