UK almost hit 1,000 Covid jabs a minute on Saturday, Vaccines Minister tells LBC

7 February 2021, 11:54 | Updated: 7 February 2021, 12:32

By Megan White

The UK almost hit 1,000 Covid jabs a minute at one point on Saturday, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has told LBC, adding that he is confident that all over 50s will be vaccinated by May.

Speaking to Swarbrick on Sunday, Mr Zahawi said between 11am and 12pm on Saturday, the rate reached 979 jabs a minute.

He said rollout of the vaccine is "progressing at pace" and said he is "confident" that the top nine priority categories will have been given the jab on target.

As of Friday, 11,465,210 people across the UK had received their first dose of the vaccine, with 510,057 having had their second dose.

The Vaccines Minister's comments came after it was announced that regular rapid-result coronavirus testing is to be made available more widely to employees who are continuing to travel to work during the lockdown in a bid to tackle asymptomatic cases.

Mr Zahawi told LBC: "The rollout is progressing at pace, by the middle of this month we will have offered the vaccine to the top four most vulnerable cohorts in that list that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have given us, which has nine categories.

"The top four is 88 per cent of mortalities, so by mid February, that is about 15 million people in the United Kingdom, we will have hit that target.

"Then we move on to categories five, six, seven, eight and nine - that's the nine categories which make up 99 per cent of mortality - and I'm confident we'll hit that target by May to have given the first dose to all nine categories."

He added: "We'll be saying a bit more on this once we hit the first target the Prime Minister set us, which is the first four cohorts by mid-February, that is absolutely my expectation.

"So category five and six, and especially six, is the 16 to 64-year-olds who may have other underlying conditions that would put them at risk of Covid, incredibly important, and of course category five is the over 65s, and then to your point, category nine is the over 50s.

"So one to nine by the end of April."

Asked if the Government was preparing for the vaccination rate to slow down as second doses began to be administered, Mr Zahawi said: "The deployment infrastructure is incredibly resilient, so we've got hospital hubs, the national vaccination centres, GPs which are the backbone of the deployment structure and I thank them for that, and of course pharmacies - we've got 200 with more coming online - 2,700 sites in total.

"Yesterday between 11am and 12pm, we almost touched 1,000 jabs a minute - we got to 979 a minute.

"So the infrastructure is in place. The determining factor is vaccine supply, which is finite.

"We're already beginning to reserve the second dose, so we can begin second dosing in March, and then of course continue the second half of February and into March and April with the first dose of the five to nine groups."

Mr Zahawi also sought to allay fears about the more infectious South African variant of coronavirus - which is being hunted in England by door-to-door testing teams - after a study found the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine offered only limited protection against mild disease caused by the mutation.

He told Tom Swarbrick: "All the vaccine manufacturers and scientists are looking at the efficacy of the vaccine against the South Africa strain.

"They're all confident over the Kent strain, the UK strain as it's referred to internationally, and of course we continue to be vigilant.

"The good news about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is that is it is effective against serious illness and hospitalisation, and that is equally important, that people are not becoming seriously ill or going to hospital or dying, because obviously this is a race against death.

"If you look at my priority list, that one to nine is 99 per cent of mortality."