Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it is a ‘realistic expectation’ that all people in the top four priority groups will have received their first Covid vaccine dose by mid-February.
Announcing a new national lockdown beginning today, Mr Johnson said this could begin to be lifted if the target is achieved in a televised address last night.
The prime minister outlined the NHS’ ‘realistic expectations for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks’.
He said: ‘By the middle of February if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
‘If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus and of course that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.’
If vaccine rollout is successful, deaths start to fall, our understanding of the virus ‘does not change dramatically once again’ and the public adhere to the restrictions, Mr Johnson suggested the lockdown could begin to ease from mid-February.
He said: ‘I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown, reopening schools after the February half term and cautiously starting to move regions down the tiers.’
However, he added that ‘we should remain cautious about the timetable’ because there is a ‘time-lag’ of two to three weeks between vaccination and immunity and it will take more time before ‘the pressure on the NHS is lifted’.
Mr Johnson also announced the clinically extremely vulnerable should begin shielding again.
The top four priority areas cover all residents and staff in care homes for older adults the over 70s, all frontline health and social care workers and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
The BMA expressed support for the move to the national lockdown but called on the Government to accelerate the vaccination of healthcare workers.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The vaccination of healthcare workers needs to be significantly sped up so that health and care staff across the country are prioritised to receive both the first and second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to help keep them free of the virus, so they can continue to provide the care so vitally needed by so many. ‘
He added that the NHS is facing ‘a perfect storm of immense workload and staff burnout’ and could be damaged ‘beyond repair’ without the tough measures.
It comes as the four UK chief medical officers yesterday recommended that the UK move from alert level four to five – signifying that NHS capacity could be overwhelmed within 21 days if no action is taken.
However, GPs took to Twitter to express concerns – with some saying the projected timetable is ‘not good enough’.
Others said staff capacity could prevent practices from delivering the vaccine at the speed required and called for practices to step down routine care.
It comes as GPs in London have been asked to ‘stand down’ non-essential work over the next two weeks in a bid to free up time to deliver Covid vaccinations.
GPs are to start delivering the ‘bulk’ of existing Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses from this week – after its launch in hospitals yesterday – following MHRA authorisation for the vaccine’s use in the UK.
JCVI priority groups
- residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- all those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
- all those 75 years of age and over
- all those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
- all those 65 years of age and over
- all individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
- all those 60 years of age and over
- all those 55 years of age and over
- all those 50 years of age and over