British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination center in London on February 15, 2021. The UK government hopes to vaccinate all adults by the end of July. Jeremy Selwyn / AP Hide caption
Jeremy Selwyn / AP
Jeremy Selwyn / AP
The UK 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 accelerated target will allow vulnerable people to be protected “sooner”, which should help ease the lifting of lockdown restrictions across the country.
Senior ministers met on Sunday to discuss the plan. Johnson will unveil the plan to ease restrictions on the House of Commons on Monday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the BBC that around a third of adults in the UK – around 17 million people – have already been vaccinated. The new goal also calls for anyone over the age of 50 or anyone with an underlying health condition to receive a vaccine by April 15, rather than the previous May 1 goal.
The UK uses both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
The UK is delaying the second dose of vaccine until 12 weeks after the first in order to provide partial protection as quickly as possible to as many people as possible. according to the Associated Press. While the move is backed by scientific advisors in the UK, Pfizer says it has no data to support the delay.
The UK was the first country in the world to give emergency approval for a COVID-19 vaccine. Still, the government has been widely criticized for its handling of the pandemic that has left it more than 120,000 people died, the highest toll in Europe.
The country is in its third national lockdown for more than a month, leaving businesses and schools closed. The prime minister is under increasing pressure to loosen the lockdown in an attempt to boost the nation’s weak economy.
The latest lockdown was triggered by rapidly spreading variants of the coronavirus – including one from South Africa – that were overwhelming UK hospitals. Hancock said the number of cases of variants from South Africa had been falling for a month.
“The latest data shows that there are around a dozen new ones, so a much, much smaller number, and every time we find a new one, we pin it absolutely tight,” he said.