People aged over 35 will be able to book their Covid vaccination in the coming days, as the government accelerates its vaccination rollout.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that jabs will be opened up for people in this aged bracket from next week, and urged people to book their vaccination when called.
‘Come forward and get a jab’
Mr Hancock has urged those who are eligible for vaccination to, and have not yet booked an appointment, to go and get the jab as he warned against the possible impact of the Indian Covid variant.
The strain is feared to be even more transmissible than the Kent variant, which drove the UK’s deadly second wave of infections over the winter, and is now becoming dominant in some parts of the country.
He warned that the Indian Covid variant can “spread like wildfire” among those who have not been vaccinated, and said there is a “high degree of confidence” that the current vaccines do protect against the variant.
The majority of cases of the India Covid strain are concentrated in the north-west of England, predominantly in Bolton, and in London.
The variant is also thought to be the reason behind half of coronavirus infections in Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen and South Northamptonshire, although these outbreaks are still small.
Outbreaks have also been identified in two areas of Tyneside and in Newcastle, while there are around 30 cases in parts of Scotland, including Glasgow, with Public Health England saying almost half of all cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller.
The Health Secretary stressed the importance of getting vaccinated when called, arguing the “vast majority” of people in Bolton in hospital with the new variant have been eligible for the jab but have not taken it.
He said: “Because of the speed of transmission of this one, it can really spread like wildfire amongst the unvaccinated groups - hence we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, particularly among those who are most vulnerable to ending up in hospital.
People aged over 35 will be eligible to book their jabs from next week, as authorities try to get on top of the spreading Indian variant, particularly in Covid hotspots like Bolton and Blackburn.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hancock said: “This coming week we’re going to be opening up vaccination to the 35s-and-over across the country because this isn’t just about accelerating the vaccination programme in Bolton, it’s about going as fast as we possibly can nationwide.”
Could AstraZeneca guidance change?
Guidance could also change on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is currently not recommended for people under 40, in order to help get more people immunised.
Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), was asked if the JCVI would look again at the recommendation that people under 40 should be offered alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine if it means that it could speed up the rollout.
He said: "Yes absolutely, that's on the agenda, and if necessary that's something that could be done.
"When we expressed a preference for non-AstraZeneca vaccines for this age group it was done in a very provisional way on the basis of everything going absolutely right.
"And if the evidence shows that the risk benefit balance for people in their 30s is to be offered that vaccine then absolutely that recommendation will be changed.
"At the moment we don't think that's necessary, but it could well become a recommendation in the future."