The Government has secured 60 million more vaccine doses – allowing it to roll out “booster” jabs by the end of the year, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told a Downing Street press conference.
More than a quarter of the adult population has already received two vaccinations. And the UK is on course to offer every adult at least one jab by the end of July, which would mean giving everyone a second dose by around the end of October at the latest.
But the 60 million new doses will mean that a third vaccination can also be offered this year, in a bid to provide immunity from new mutant strains of Covid-19.
It was one of five big announcements from the press conference:
1) Plans for booster jabs
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock said: “The vaccine is helping us to bring back our freedom and we must protect this progress. The biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant.
“So we are working on our plans for booster shots too.
“To keep us safe and free here, while we get this disease under control across the whole world, we have been working on a programme of booster shots, for over a year now.”
The government’s Vaccines Taskforce has purchased an additional 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, he said.
They will be used alongside other approved Covid-19 vaccines for the booster programme.
Once again, the most clinically vulnerable will be first in line for extra vaccinations.
2) Anyone aged 42 or over can get a jab
Mr Hancock said initial doses of the vaccine were now being offered to anyone aged 42 or over.
“I’m delighted we have been able to offer the vaccine now to even more people. So anyone who is 42 or older can now come forward and get the jab.”
Mr Hancock said it meant he could now get vaccinated too. “I’m looking forward to getting my jab first thing tomorrow morning.”
3) New data reveals vaccines stop the virus spreading
The Health Secretary also highlighted data from Public Health England showing just one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine reduces household transmission of the virus by up to half.
He said: “We know that indoor settings have the highest risk of transmission so these results are really encouraging.”
Mr Hancock was joined at the Downing Street press conference by England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and NHS England’s Dr Nikki Kanani.
4) More help for India
He pledged the UK would do everything it could to help India, where a devastating surge of new infections has left healthcare systems on the brink of collapse. The Covid death toll in India now stands at more than 200,000 lives lost.
Mr Hancock said: “The bonds between our countries .. are ties of family and of friendship.”
The UK will donate large scale oxygen production equipment, he said.
“Everyone across this whole United Kingdom stands side by side with the people of India in these troubled times,” he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier today that the Government continues to “work closely” with its Indian counterparts to “determine what further help they may need”.
Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams later told MPs there is “more to come in terms of equipment and support”, again highlighting the ongoing talks with Indian officials.
The House of Commons heard the first UK shipment of 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators arrived in India on Tuesday, with a further 400 concentrators following on Wednesday and Thursday.
5) A quarter of adults have now had two doses
Today’s figures show 13.2 million adults, more than a quarter of the UK adult population, have now received two doses of a Covid-19 jab.
The milestone means one in four adults in the UK has received the strongest possible protection against COVID-19.
Earlier, there was some good news for people hoping to book a holiday as Portugal announced holidaymakers could be able to visit the country from the “middle of May”.
Asked when Portugal will be opening its borders to tourists from the UK, the nation’s ambassador to the UK, Manuel Lobo Antunes, told Sky News: “As soon as possible, this is not just a unilateral matter, we have to coordinate this issue with our British friends and the UK Government.
“But we are hopeful, as we have been saying for these last months, that from the middle of May, regular mobility between the UK and Portugal and vice versa, can be established, that’s our hope.”
Asked if Britons who have not been vaccinated can travel into the country, he added: “Yes, that’s the idea, that’s what we wanted, to as much as possible go back to the regime that existed before the pandemic.
“It’s in that direction we are working and that is possible.”