Britain has steamed through its Covid vaccination goal five days early, with two-thirds of adults now having had both doses.
Government data shows 35.16million over-18s (66.7 per cent) are fully-vaccinated. Around 46.04million (87.4 per cent) have had their first jab.
Boris Johnson trumpeted the milestone — which ministers wanted to hit by ‘Freedom Day’ — as ‘extraordinary’ and heaped praise on ordinary Britons for putting their faith in the vaccines.
The Prime Minister said: ‘Thank you again to everyone coming forward, and to those helping others to get jabbed. You are the reason we are able to cautiously ease restrictions next week, and return closer towards normal life.’
Newly-appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid heralded reaching the target early as a ‘huge achievement’ for the vaccine roll-out.
Ministers had aimed to get two doses to at least two in three adults by July 19, when most remaining restrictions in England are set to be eased.
Everyone over the age of 18 has already been offered the chance to get vaccinated.
No10’s top advisers are mulling over halving the gap between shots to four weeks amid mounting concern the country may have finally hit ‘maximum uptake’.
The space between doses has already been reduced to eight weeks, and scientists fear any further reduction could result in people getting substandard immunity from the jabs compared to those who waited for longer.
NHS England figures show another 124,905 second doses have been dished out, bringing the total number of Brits jabbed to 35.1million, or 66.6 per cent. Health chiefs will publish updated figures later today that will also include inoculations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Boris Johnson heralded the milestone as ‘extraordinary’ and said it was thanks to millions of Britons turning up for vaccines that restrictions could be ‘cautiously’ lifted on July 19. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it was a ‘huge achievement’
Vaccines and masks are best ways to protect ourselves on Freedom Day, says scientist behind AstraZeneca Covid vaccine
Vaccines and masks are the best way to protect ourselves after ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday, one of the scientists behind the Oxford University Covid vaccine claimed today.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the brains behind the AstraZeneca jab, said wearing a covering in crowded indoor settings was ‘a sign of respect’.
She admitted masks do little to protect the wearer, but claimed they may prevent some people from passing the virus onto others.
Dame Sarah said she will follow Professor Chris Whitty’s advice to continue to wear masks when they are no longer a legal requirement next week.
Her comments come amid fears that mask-wearing etiquette could spark a culture war post ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday.
Ministers and scientific advisers are still encouraging people to don a mask in crowded spaces where the risk of Covid is higher – such as on trains or busy shops.
Adding to confusion, London Mayor Sadiq Khan this morning revealed that face coverings will still be compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis in the capital.
Dame Sarah told Good Morning Britain: ‘None of the protective measures are completely effective on their own and we get the best protection when we link up different ways of protecting ourselves.
‘So if we get everybody who is eligible for the vaccine to have the vaccine, if we wear a facemask indoors in crowded areas.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Barely eight months since the first vaccine was given, this is another extraordinary achievement.
‘Now let’s finish the job. If you’re over 18, book both your jabs today.’
Mr Javid said: ‘The vaccination programme is building a strong wall of protection around our population, saving tens of thousands of lives, preventing millions of infections and allowing us to cautiously progress through the roadmap.
‘Everyone has a part to play in overcoming this virus so please come forward for your jab if you haven’t already — it is the best way to protect you, your loved ones and your community.’
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — which advises No10 on the roll-out — claimed today there would be no ‘gain’ from cutting the gap.
He said data shows a four-week interval causes a much lower immune response, meaning people who get the jabs after a shorter time-frame get less protection against the virus.
Other JCVI advisers have also called for No10 not to change tack in its fight against the third wave, echoing Professor Harnden’s concerns.
Professor Harnden told Times Radio: ‘We’ve looked at this data very carefully over the last few days and it is quite clear, from the AstraZeneca vaccine, there is absolutely no doubt the longer interval gives you much better protection.
‘But we concentrated on the Pfizer vaccine because of course that’s one that’s being given to younger people at the moment.
‘And it’s quite clear from antibody T cells studies that you get much lower response, and poorer quality memory response, with the shorter interval — that’s a four-week interval compared to an eight- to 12-week interval.
‘And the actual real data vaccine effectiveness studies show that there is a lower vaccine efficacy against symptomatic disease with shorter intervals compared to longer intervals.’
He added: ‘Then we got the modellers to look at this and, actually, the number of infections will rise if we reduce the dose.
‘We just don’t think there’s any good short, or longer term gain by shortening the interval.’
Scientists say spacing out doses leads to a better priming of the immune system to fight off the virus.
Originally, both AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s vaccines were approved to be dished out in three-week intervals because that was the gap tested in the research trials.
But No10’s scientists pushed the regimen back to 12 weeks to get wider protection in winter, when the second wave started to take off.
They said the decision would allow more people to get some immunity against the disease in the shortest period of time possible.
Two weeks ago, the JCVI recommended cutting the gap to eight weeks for everyone, in a bid to protect more people.
Health chiefs already fear the UK may be close to maximum vaccine uptake, with young people having been eligible for appointments for almost a month.
The roll-out has ground to fewer than 100,000 first doses a day, with the UK’s drive currently centered on ensuring millions get fully inoculated.
Young people — the last group to be inoculated — are less likely to get the jab than others because they see themselves as not at threat from the virus.
Ministers are hoping, however, that a double-jab requirement for holidays and to avoid self-isolation will bolster uptake.
Professor Harnden said uptake of jabs among younger age groups may increase if vaccines are more accessible and are backed by role models.
He added that the JCVI is ‘concerned’ about the uptake of first doses among younger age groups.
Asked whether the England team could be part of an advertising campaign, he said: ‘I think it’d be a brilliant idea — the England team have captured the whole country’s attention over the last four weeks.
‘And many of them, the young role models — I think it would be wonderful if they were able to contribute in some sort of way to encouraging young, particularly young men to be vaccinated.’
The JCVI has been asked to issue urgent advice on whether the pros and cons of slashing the gap between doses, the Sunday Times claimed. An announcement is expected within days.
Experts fear leaving young people only partially protected for longer amid a second wave could drive up rates of ‘long Covid’.
Public Health England evidence shows jabs cut the risk of infection by between 55 and 70 per cent after one dose, but that this rises to 65 to 90 per cent after two.
Source: Daily Mail UK