UK speeds up vaccine launch as lockdown eases in sight

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More than 17.5 million people, or a third of adults in the UK, have had at least one vaccine since vaccinations began in December.

The British government has announced that every adult in the country should receive its first coronavirus vaccine by July 31, at least a month before its previous goal, as it prepares to devise a “cautious” plan to ease the UK lockdown.

The previous goal was for all adults to have an injection by September. The new target also calls for everyone 50 years of age or older and those with an underlying health condition to receive the first two-dose vaccine by April 15, instead of the previous date on May 1.

The two vaccine makers in Britain, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have had supply problems in Europe. But British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that “we now think we have the supplies” to speed up the vaccination campaign.

The early success of vaccination efforts in Britain is welcome news for a country with more than 120,000 deaths from the Coronavirus, the highest in Europe. More than 17.5 million people – a third of adults in the UK – have had at least one vaccine since vaccination began on December 8th.

Britain is delaying the administration of the second vaccine doses until 12 weeks after the first [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Britain is postponing the administration of the second vaccine doses until 12 weeks after the first, from three to four weeks, in order to quickly give more people partial protection. This approach has been criticized in some countries – and by Pfizer, which says it does not have any data to support the interval – but it is backed by scientific advisers to the UK government.

Despite the success of the fastest vaccination campaign in Europe, the UK government has been accused of failing to protect the disabled, who are among those most at risk of contracting the Coronavirus.

The Office for National Statistics found that 60% of people who died from coronavirus in England in 2020 had a physical or mental disability. But many persons with disabilities, except for those with “severe or profound” learning disabilities, were not placed in a priority group for vaccination.

Roadmap for re-opening

News of the new vaccine targets came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Sunday with senior ministers to finalize a “road map” to get out of the national lockdown. Details will be announced in Parliament on Monday.

Faced with a dominant virus type that scientists say is more transmissible than the original virus, Britain has spent most of the winter under a tight lockdown. Bars, restaurants, gyms, schools, hair salons and all non-essential stores are closed; Grocery stores, pharmacies, and takeaway places are still open.

The government stressed that the economic and social re-opening will be slow and cautious, with unnecessary shopping or outdoor socializing unlikely before April. Many children will return to school starting March 8 and nursing home residents will be able to receive one visitor on the same date.

Johnson’s conservative government has been accused of reopening the country very quickly after the first lockdown last year. The number of new confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths all decreased in February but remains high, and Johnson says the reopened roadmap will follow “data, not dates.”

But it is under pressure from some conservative lawmakers, who argue that restrictions should be lifted quickly to revive the economy, which was shut down with three closings in the past year.

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