Ministers urge greater vaccine uptake as cases of Indian Covid variant grow

18 May 2021, 08:39 | Updated: 18 May 2021, 10:02

People queue for the vaccination centre at the Essa Academy in Bolton
People queue for the vaccination centre at the Essa Academy in Bolton. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Ministers are urging people to come forward and get their Covid vaccine when it is offered as cases of the Indian variant continue to grow in the UK.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs yesterday that people who are hesitant about taking the jab should look at what is happening in Bolton "where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible" but chose not to have it.

Meanwhile, cabinet minister George Eustice told LBC this morning: "We will only be able to exit this pandemic when the vast majority of people have had the vaccine."

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Mr Hancock revealed yesterday that there have been 2,323 confirmed cases of the B.1.617.2 variant in the UK, with 86 local authorities having five or more confirmed cases.

It has become the dominant strain in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, where 483 cases have been detected.

Contingency plans for local lockdowns are being considered if the strain cannot be brought under control, according to The Times.

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons: "To anyone who feels hesitant, not just in Bolton or Blackburn, but to anyone who feels hesitant about getting the vaccine right across the country, just look at what is happening in Bolton Hospital where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital - some of them in intensive care.

"Vaccines save lives, they protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic."

He added on Twitter: "The success of our vaccination programme means we're able to take Step 3 in our roadmap today, carefully easing some of the restrictions we've all endured.

"I urge everyone who's eligible to come forward and get your jab."

Coronavirus restrictions were eased on Monday in England, Wales and most of Scotland.

Pubs and restaurants are now able to welcome customers inside while millions of people are able to socialise indoors and hug family and friends outside their own households.

Environment Secretary Mr Eustice told LBC this morning that increasing uptake of the vaccine meant giving people reassurance that the jabs "have been rigorously assessed and that they are safe" but also pointing out "there is still a risk... from new variants".

He also suggested younger people needed to be as enthusiastic about the jabs as their older counterparts.

"We know that the uptake of the vaccine was very high in those older cohorts, those are the ones who were most at risk of hospitalisation and death," he said.

"So having got the vaccine out to people over the age of 60 and having good uptake there I think we are in a good position to prevent the resurgence of new variants because it's now clear the vaccine can dampen the transmission of the virus too.

"We just need all those other, younger cohorts to also embrace the vaccine."

Text messages are being sent out on Tuesday to 37-year-olds asking them to book an appointment to get the jab, to be followed on Wednesday by 36-year-olds.

At the same time, over 50s are having their second jabs brought forward on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Ministers have warned the final lifting of lockdown restrictions in England, set for June 21, may have to be delayed if the new variant continues to spread.