Second Covid-19 jabs ‘to be sped up for over 40s’

5 June 2021, 07:18 | Updated: 5 June 2021, 07:57

A queue forms outside a COVID-19 vaccination centre at St Thomas' Hospital in London
A queue forms outside a COVID-19 vaccination centre at St Thomas' Hospital in London. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

People over the age of 40 are set to be offered their second Covid-19 jab after eight weeks instead of 12 to help keep the country on the roadmap out of lockdown.

Over 25s are also reportedly to be offered their first jab from next week as the government takes steps to slow the spread of Covid-19 variants. It comes after the UK regulator approved use of the Pfizer vaccine in children between the ages of 12 to 15-years-old.

The latest figures suggest coronavirus cases have risen more than 76 percent across England in a week.

But evidence that vaccines work is mounting, with Public Health England data showing vaccines protect against even the new variant after two doses.

Figures show vaccines cut the risk of catching the virus and being admitted to hospital by up to 93 per cent.

Figures released last night showed that just seven out of 9,427 people to have been infected with the new strain by the end of May needed hospital treatment after two doses.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, says Boris Johnson faces a tough decision. He said: "The trends that we are seeing this week about this new variant are all disencouraging.

"They are early trends, they may not continue and things might come right, but what we're seeing is a virus that's more infectious, spreading around the country...causing more hospitalisations, and the vaccines, while they protect against it, do it slightly less well."

On Friday the UK recorded its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases - 6,238 - since late March, according to official figures.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also suggested the number of people who had the virus in England has increased by around three quarters in a week, taking it to its highest tally since mid-April, with the R value between 1 and 1.2.

Laboratory data from the Francis Crick Institute has backed up a policy of reducing the gap between jabs.

A study found that after just one dose of the Pfizer jab, people are less likely to develop antibody levels against the Indian (B.1.617.2) variant, also known as Delta, as high as those seen against the previously dominant Kent variant, which has been dubbed Alpha.

Dr Rosalind Eggo, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) Government advisory panel, said with "very early evidence" showing that the current vaccines on offer "don't work quite as well against the Delta variant", it was important to increase the rate of second jabs.

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed he is considering keeping social-distancing restrictions in place for the rest of 2021, calling the two-metre measure "one of the strongest defences that we have" against the virus.

But Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said keeping social distancing in place would threaten the viability of the sector.

"Sorry but leaving social distancing in place in pubs, restaurants, hotels and attractions means that June 21 is not freedom date at all," she tweeted.

"It means that those businesses continue to operate at a loss and threatens the long term viability of businesses, jobs and the recovery."

Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said he was "up for a fight" over the possible shift.

"Hospitality is the fifth biggest industry in the UK - June 21 is make or break for many," he said on social media.

The Prime Minister told broadcasters this week there was still "nothing in the data at the moment that means we cannot go ahead with Step 4".

The Health Secretary said the Government "always expected cases to rise" as lockdown was eased, and that ministers were being "tough" on international travel rules to preserve the route out of lockdown in the UK by preventing new variants from taking hold.

Matt Hancock said vaccines had not managed to completely sever the link between infections and people ending up in hospital but that it was not yet possible to determine whether the Indian variant increased the risk of ending up on a hospital ward.

"That's one of the things that we're watching very carefully, and it's too early to say what the decision will be ahead of June 21, but we'll make sure people know in good time," Mr Hancock told reporters on Friday.