The Government has said that it could send additional doses of the Covid vaccine to areas where variants of concerns are spreading, including to bring forward second doses.
In an announcement yesterday evening, the Government said it ‘is closely monitoring’ the variant first identified in India (B1.617.2), of which cases have doubled in England in the past week.
According to the Government, its actions to curb the spread include additional surge testing in 15 areas, increased genomic sequencing and enhanced contact tracing.
However it added that ‘ministers are also considering a range of options which could include bringing forward second doses for eligible groups’ to protect vulnerable people.
Data published yesterday evening by Public Health England showed that the number of cases across the UK of the Indian variant has risen from 520 last week, to 1,313 cases this week.
Most cases are in the North West of England, especially including Bolton, with some in London.
The news comes as Blackburn with Darwen’s public health director has told the BBC that he was stopped by Government officials from rolling out vaccines to all over-18s next week.
But vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that it has sent additional vaccine doses to Bolton.
Asked if they would be used to bring forward second doses for vulnerable people, Mr Zahawi instead referenced a pilot in Luton which has targeted vaccinations of everyone over 18 in multi-generational households.
Asked if there would be ‘a greater intensity’ for the vaccine programme in areas with variants, Mr Zahawi said: ‘We will flex the vaccine programme according to the clinical advice.’
But he cautioned that, as it takes a number of weeks after a first dose for vaccines to become effective, the ‘most important’ way to break the cycle of transmission would be to test, trace and isolate.
The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) met yesterday and will meet again today and ‘will guide us’, the minister added.
‘We will take whatever steps necessary to make sure we use the vaccination programme and testing and isolation,’ he said.
The Government announcement also said it ‘cannot rule out’ re-imposing economic and social restrictions ‘at a local or regional level’ if evidence suggests they are ‘necessary to contain or suppress a variant which escapes the vaccine’.
As it stands, there is no evidence to suggest the Indian variant escapes the vaccine, although evidence suggests it is 60% more transmissable.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We are monitoring the situation very carefully and will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.’