Britons over-70s will be given Covid-19 vaccine booster jabs in September to protect them from emerging variants of the virus.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi unveiled details of the plan that will see people in the top four priority groups receive a third injection.
As well as over-70s, this group contains frontline NHS and social care workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
Mr Zahawi said the Government is expecting up to eight different jabs to be available by the autumn, including one protecting against three different variants in a single dose.
A number will be manufactured in the UK, which could ease the pressure on supplies amid tensions with the European Union as it faces shortages from AstraZeneca.
As Britain’s jab rollout continued:
- Tory MPs railed against threats by EU leaders to impose an export ban that could block shipments of second Pfizer doses ahead of crunch weekend talks;
- Government sources stressed the UK does have enough supplies to give people their second doses;
- Health chiefs suggested people could get their vaccine at drive-in centres on their way to work;
- A spring heatwave was forecast for next week, with temperatures of up to 76F to coincide with the axing of the ‘stay at home’ order;
- It was announced that shops will stay open until 10pm when they open on April 12 to boost the economic recovery.
Over-70s, frontline NHS and social care staff and the clinically extremely vulnerable will get the first booster shots
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi unveiled details of the new plan to give booster doses
More than 324,942 first doses and 234,382 second doses were given out yesterday in Britain’s vaccination drive
Tories hit back at EU threats to block vaccine exports
Tory MPs have railed against threats from EU leaders to use an export ban to block shipments of second vaccine doses to the UK.
France today escalated the row by suggesting Britain does not have sufficient stockpiles of Pfizer jabs to administer its round of second doses – and that the rollout is at the mercy of EU supply chains.
Paris’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also accused the UK of ‘blackmailing’ Brussels and making it ‘pay the price’ for the Britain’s decision to ‘hurry ahead’ with first doses, ahead of crunch talks this weekend to reach an agreement on supplies.
EU leaders last night stepped back from the brink of the vaccine embargo – which was being pushed by the under-fire Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – after Angela Merkel and Dutch PM Mark Rutte instead called for a diplomatic approach.
But Emmanuel Macron is leading a group of hardline states still agitating for the export ban.
Conservative MP Philip Davies told MailOnline: ‘I think the French and the EU should take note of the maxim: when you’re in hole, stop digging.’
He added: ‘It goes to prove we were so right to leave the EU, they’re thrashing around trying to cover for their own incompetence and in turn are behaving like a protectionist racket.
‘I think the Prime Minister was completely right when he said that no company is going to want to do business in an organisation that blocks exports, and has no respect for contract law.’
Tory MP Bob Seely, a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: ‘At a time when everyone has a duty to be working together, for both the good of the EU and the UK, the wretched vaccine nationalism of some EU politicians is appalling.’
Asked when the booster programme would begin, Mr Zahawi told the Telegraph: ‘The most likely date will be September.
‘Jonathan Van-Tam (the deputy chief medical officer) thinks that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, (it) would be around September.’
Ministers were facing pressure to protect the success of the vaccination programme against the import of new variants from overseas, with the Guardian reporting officials met on Friday to consider expanding the travel ‘red list’ mandating hotel quarantine.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: ‘The UK Government are yet again doing too little, too late to secure our borders against Covid – and it’s the British people that will pay the price.
‘Ministers need to do everything possible to stop new variants reaching the UK – and move to a comprehensive hotel quarantine system now.’
European Union leaders gave their backing to more stringent vaccine shipment controls as the bloc struggles with its rollout, but stopped short of imposing an export ban.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said AstraZeneca must ‘catch up’ on deliveries to the EU before exporting doses elsewhere.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US president Joe Biden discussed their vaccination programmes in a call on Friday afternoon.
‘The Prime Minister stressed that global access to vaccines will be key to defeating the pandemic,’ a Downing Street spokesman said.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) signed off moves that will increase manufacturing capacity and supply of Covid-19 vaccines.
The EU agency approved the Halix site in Leiden in the Netherlands for the production of AstraZeneca’s active vaccine substance, boosting the licensed sites to four.
And it backed a new manufacturing site in the German city of Marburg, as well as more flexible storage conditions for the Pfizer jab.
However, tensions remained high, with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accusing the UK of ‘blackmail’ over its handling of exports.
‘The United Kingdom has taken great pride in vaccinating well with the first dose except they have a problem with the second dose,’ he told France Info radio.
But his assertion was denied by the UK Government, with a spokesman saying: ‘We’re on track to meet our vaccination targets and everyone will get their second dose within 12 weeks of their first.’
Meanwhile, the Government was accused by a senior Tory of failing black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and young women on hesitancy towards vaccines.
Caroline Nokes, the chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, said in a letter to Mr Zahawi that not tackling the issue could be ‘devastating’ for vaccine hesitant groups as well as wider society.
The Government has also announced that retailers in England will be able to stay open until 10pm six days a week when they are permitted to trade again from April 12.
The Department of Health posted another 70 Covid deaths yesterday, down a third on the 101 recorded time last Friday. Experts have said the successful vaccination drive should keep these low as more people are immune to the virus
Covid cases rose 28 per cent, however, after 6,187 were announced compared to 4,802 from a week ago. The uptick is not a cause for concern, experts say, and was to be expected after schools reopened
Britons could get the vaccine at drive-in centres on their way to work, health chiefs suggest
Young Britons could get a Covid jab from a drive-thru clinic on their way to work.
Heath chiefs said the NHS must adopt ‘innovative delivery modes’ as the vaccine rollout expands to younger groups.
NHS board meeting documents state: ‘Reaching a more mobile, largely working-age population with lower Covid-19-related health risk will bring different challenges, especially as lockdown and more [restrictions] are lifted.
‘We have developed operational guidance for drive-thru, mobile and pop-up models to enable targeted delivery.’
Ministers promised to offer a vaccine to over-50s by April 15. It comes as the British Medical Association said GPs can offer jabs to over-40s if they have exhausted efforts to reach those eligible.
NHS England stressed phase two would begin only when authorised, but the doctors’ union said members had discretion to jab to prevent waste.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it will allow them to reopen ‘safely’, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak encouraged people to ‘go have fun’ by spending their savings.
In Wales, lockdown restrictions were being eased as the ‘stay local’ requirement was dropped on Saturday and people being allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation.
A relaxing of England’s lockdown will take place on Monday when the ‘stay home’ order ends and groups of up to six people, or two households, are able to meet outside.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested there was a levelling off in the decline of coronavirus infections in England.
Oxford University’s Professor James Naismith said: ‘Today’s ONS data are less reassuring than last week; they serve as a caution but not yet evidence we need to change course.’
Britain’s daily Covid death toll plunged 30 per cent in a week to 70 yesterday as experts insisted the Covid outbreak was ‘well under control’ even though cases were up.
Data across the board suggest that cases have ‘levelled off’ since schools reopened, while positive test numbers rose by 30 per cent week-on-week to 6,187 compared to 4,802 recorded last Friday.
Scientists sought to reassure Britons that the upticks were ‘inevitable’ once parts of society unlocked, saying the figures were ‘not yet evidence’ the ultra-cautious lockdown easing plans needed to be pushed back.
They added the successful vaccine drive – which today hit more than 29million first doses – had weakened the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths because far fewer people will get seriously ill from now on.
It came as No10’s scientific advisers revealed England’s R rate may have risen as high as one, in another sign cases may now be plateauing.
SAGE scientists upgraded their estimate of the R rate – how many people each infected person passes the virus on to – to between 0.8 and one, meaning the outbreak is no longer shrinking as quickly as it was.
Advisers also claimed the measure – which is based on three weeks’ worth of data – didn’t ‘fully reflect’ schools reopening on March 8, hinting it will spike above the crucial level in April.
They added, however, that R was no longer a key measure because Downing Street has accepted it will rise as restrictions get relaxed. Ministers will only act if hospital admissions spiral out of control.