Nearly four in five of over-80s have received first Covid vaccine jab, Hancock says

25 January 2021, 17:34 | Updated: 25 January 2021, 18:27

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Nearly four in five people aged 80 and above have received their first dose of the Covid vaccine, Matt Hancock has announced.

The health secretary said he was "very proud" to confirm that the UK has given a jab to 78.7 per cent of all its over-80s.

However, he told the Downing Street coronavirus press briefing that supply remains "tight" due to the rate-limiting factor.

Mr Hancock was speaking alongside England's deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries and deputy director of the national infections service at Public Health England (PHE) Dr Susan Hopkins.

The Cabinet minister also said progress towards vaccinating the top four priority groups by 15 February is "on track".

He confirmed that 6.6 million had now received a jab, more than one in nine of the adult population, and, in the last week, 2.5 million got a vaccine, at a rate of more than 250 people per minute.

Mr Hancock told the briefing: "We're on track to offer everyone in the top four priority groups a jab by 15 February."

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In an attempt to clarify Prime Minister Boris Johnson's earlier comments about the government looking at "the potential" of easing lockdown measures within weeks, the health secretary said reaching such a decision is "difficult".

He highlighted that there were 37,000 people in hospital with Covid-19, which he said was "almost twice as many as at the first peak back in April".

Mr Hancock also noted there are "more people on ventilators than at any time in this whole pandemic".

He added: "The pressure on the NHS remains huge and we've got to get that case rate down. Of course I understand the yearning people have to get out of this.

"The thing is that we have to look at the facts on the ground and we have to monitor those facts.

"And of course, everybody wants to have a timeline for that, but I think most people understand why it is difficult to put a timeline on it because it's a matter of monitoring the data, and in fact, this is a state-contingent and not a time-contingent question."

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Meanwhile, PHE's Dr Hopkins said teams were currently studying the impact of the South African variant on the UK's vaccine programme.

She told the press conference: "There are four laboratories in the UK doing detailed vaccination and convalescent studies - and that is Imperial, Oxford and two PHE laboratories, Porton Down and Colindale.

"The consensus view from those four laboratories, which have all done different experiments, is that the current vaccine works against the variant that was first discovered in the UK. That is very, very reassuring.

"We are starting to do that work on South Africa - the variant that was first found in South Africa. That hasn't reported yet.

"But we will continue to look and watch this and we expect each of those sites to publish that data in its final format independently."

It comes after Moderna announced that its jab works against the new Covid strains first identified in the UK and South Africa.

The pharmaceutical firm acknowledged that its vaccine is less effective against the South African variant but that it still has a positive impact on neutralising the virus.

It also said it is working on developing a booster shot to make it more effective against the South African Covid strain.

Scientists found that the vaccine is equally effective against the UK variant as it is against the original version of the virus.

However, there is a "six-fold reduction" in its efficacy against the South African strain, the researchers said.

But the company added that, despite this drop, the jab remains "above levels that are expected to be protective".

The firm did not mention whether its two-dose vaccine will be effective against the new coronavirus variant that has emerged in Brazil.

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