Ministers hope the extra supplies — which will take No10’s total order to 100million — could also be used for under-30s, who likely won’t be given AstraZeneca‘s.
The US pharmaceutical giant, which manufactures the vaccine at a site in Belgium, has already supplied the UK with at least 16million doses since its first delivery at the start of December. All 40million doses of the initial order are due by the end of 2021.
Health chiefs are already gearing up for another nationwide vaccine programme last this year to offer people third doses designed to fight off new variants of the virus which could make the original vaccines less effective.
Pfizer is known to already be working on a booster jab that is modified in a way to make it more effective against the South African and Brazilian variants of the virus, which are able to slip past some parts of the immune system.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street briefing today that ‘evidence is stacking up that the vaccine protects you, it protects your loved ones, and it’s the way out of this pandemic’.
Mr Hancock said: ‘Our vaccination programme is bringing back our freedom, but the biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant.
‘We’re working on our plans for booster shots, which are the best way to keep us safe and free while we get this disease under control across the whole world.
‘These further 60 million doses will be used, alongside others, as part of our booster programme from later this year, so we can protect the progress that we’ve all made.’
He said that everyone over the age of 42 is now eligible for a coronavirus vaccine and that he was ‘looking forward to getting my jab first thing tomorrow morning’.
The supply boost means that Britain now has orders in for 517million doses of vaccines.
This includes 100m doses of Pfizer, 100m of AstraZeneca, 17m of Moderna, 30m of Johnson & Johnson, 60m of Novavax, 100m of Valneva, 60m of GlaxoSmithKline and 50m of CureVac.
Depending on when Britain gets the extra 60million Pfizer jabs, health chiefs may recommend some are used for people in their 30s who are expected to get jabs within weeks.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, the workhorse of the UK’s roll-out, is safe to use but the drug regulator said there is a possibility it raises the risk of extremely rare blood clots in some people. Around 168 cases have been spotted in 21million people so far.
To be cautious No10’s advisory panel ruled under-30s should be offered an alternative jab because their Covid risk is incredibly low.
JCVI bosses hinted today that officials could press ahead with the same recommendation for people aged 30 to 40, but only if there is enough supplies of Pfizer and Moderna to do so.
Professor Anthony Harnden told MPs that delaying the immunisation roll-out — which could happen if the move was made without enough extra doses being available — could ‘push infection rates up’ and lead to ‘many, many more deaths and hospitalisations’.
Britain’s first-dose rollout has already slowed drastically over the past month, with supply issues forcing the NHS to focus entirely on dishing out second doses.
Just 115,000 first-timers are getting jabbed every day now, according to Department of Health figures. More than 750,000 Britons were inoculated on one day in mid-March.
For comparison, the number of second doses being dished out stands at around 390,000. More than a quarter of all adults have now been fully vaccinated and nearly 34million adults have had their first dose.