U.K. Hits Target to Offer All Over-50s a Coronavirus Vaccine

The U.K. said it hit its target to offer a first coronavirus vaccine to all over-50s ahead of schedule, a significant boost to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to unlock more parts of the economy.

All adults over 50, the clinically vulnerable and health care workers have now been offered a shot in the U.K., the Department of Health and Social Care said in an emailed statement on Monday. The goal was to do so by April 15. The National Health Service on Tuesday invited people aged 45 and over to book vaccinations online.

U.K. Hits Target to Offer All Over-50s a Coronavirus Vaccine

It marks an important milestone in the government’s vaccine rollout, which has exceeded its European neighbors and provided a much-needed lift in a country that has suffered one of the worst death tolls worldwide.

“We will now move forward with completing essential second doses and making progress toward our target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July,” Johnson said in the statement.

Nearly 40 million shots have been given to more than 32 million people in the U.K., the health department said. The two main vaccines on offer have been AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer-BioNTech, and a third from Moderna Inc. began to be rolled out in Wales last week and in England from Tuesday. All require two doses.

Easing Restrictions

Shops, gyms, hair salons and outdoor hospitality reopened in England on Monday, but the next stage -- reopening indoor hospitality and restarting international travel on May 17 -- partly depends on the continued success of the vaccine program.

The government had set itself the goal of vaccinating the top nine priority groups by mid-April, and it is now up to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization to advise on how the under-50s should be prioritized. This next stage of the program is expected to begin this week, the health department said.

U.K. Hits Target to Offer All Over-50s a Coronavirus Vaccine

The government said it remains on course to offer a first shot to all U.K. adults by July 31.

Fears over rare blood clots in younger people as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine led the committee to recommend those under 30 take an alternative vaccine made by Pfizer or Moderna.

Officials stressed that the vaccine is safe, as fears that a breach in confidence in the shot could be just as detrimental to the program as short supply. For now, polls suggest that confidence in the shot -- the backbone of the U.K.’s vaccine program -- is holding up.

Still, officials remain concerned about the emergence of new coronavirus variants, specifically their potential ability to evade vaccines. Extra testing is taking place in the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth after 44 cases of a South African variant were discovered, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said in an emailed statement.

“It’s vital that we do everything we can to control this variant by taking a test and following the rules,” he said.

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