Sadiq Khan calls for young Londoners to be vaccinated to protect against Indian variant

17 May 2021, 14:17 | Updated: 17 May 2021, 14:23

By Joe Cook

The government needs to be "flexible" on the vaccine rollout and jab young people in London to protect against the spread of the Indian variant, Sadiq Khan has told LBC.

The mayor of London said he is "worried about the Indian variant", which is more transmissible than previous variants but is not thought to evade vaccines.

On Friday surge testing was deployed in the London borough of Hackney after cases of the Indian and South African variants of concern were detected.

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"The key thing is for us to keep on top of it, I am asking the government to be flexible when it comes to rolling the vaccine out to younger Londoners in those parts of our city where we are concerned about this Indian variant," Mr Khan told LBC.

"Of course, by and large we should go by age, but if we are concerned about some parts of our country and some parts of our city having greater numbers of this Indian variant then we should be flexible about giving younger Londoners this vaccine."

Mr Khan's comments follow those of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who on Monday also called for the government to "go further now and allow those extra vaccine supplies to be used in vaccinating the younger working age population, the student population".

"We recognise the pressure on vaccine supplies all over the country but we have been moving at a pace where we have been treating all areas equally and I think the time has now come to recognise areas with the highest case rate do need to be able move more quickly down the ages," Mr Burnham added, referencing the rising case rates in Bolton.

However, so far the government and scientific advisors have pushed back against calls to change the priority list to vaccinate young people, instead prioritising second jabs for the over-50s and clinically vulnerable in order to protect against hospitalisation for those most susceptible to severe disease.

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Addressing a Downing Street press conference on Friday, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said their aim continues to be to innoculate the most vulnerable first.

"If we took vaccine away from, say, groups in their late 30s and transferred them to groups of people who are 18 or 20 who are at much lower risk of severe disease, the view of the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) has clearly been that this would lead to a net disadvantage overall," he told reporters.

"The sensible thing to do is to prioritise the vaccines to those who are most at risk in all the places across the UK, because this virus is a risk everywhere, but there are very strong aims to try and accelerate and make easier vaccination in the areas which are most affected by this virus."

Prof Whitty also noted that "the fundamental issue is that we have a finite supply at any given time of the vaccine, so if you vaccinate one person, by definition you are not vaccinating another".

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On a more upbeat note, speaking during a visit to China Town as lockdown rules eased, Mr Khan said he is "confident that we can make progress with this virus", adding: "This has to be the last lockdown."

"The big game changer has been the vaccine, the big game changer is the government has finally got on top of Test and Trace."

He continued: "The good news is almost six million doses of the vaccine have been administered in London, almost two million of us have received both doses and that is why it is really important to confidently enjoy ourselves but do it in a Covid-safe way."