U.K. Minister Confident Over-50s Will Be Vaccinated by May

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The U.K. is on track to vaccinate all over-50s by May, with almost 1,000 people a minute receiving shots during the busiest period, Health Minister Nadhim Zahawi said.

Zahawi, who is responsible for the vaccine rollout, said the rate of 979 doses a minute was reached between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Saturday.

Speaking to Sky News, he said he was “confident” the government would meet its target to offer vaccines to the 15 million most vulnerable people by Feb. 15 and to have rolled out doses to everyone over the age of 50 by May.

The government is now starting to stockpile shots for the second doses that will be administered from March, Zahawi said in an interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

The U.K. is a month into its third national lockdown, with businesses shuttered and schools closed. The economy is suffering the worst hit to growth in the Group of Seven after its deepest recession in 300 years, and ministers see the vaccination program as the key to lifting restrictions and reviving businesses.

So far the U.K. has given first doses to more than 12 million people, putting it ahead of almost every other country in the world on immunizations. It has also suffered one of the worst death tolls, with 112,465 people losing their lives, according to data published Sunday.

In other developments:

  • Zahawi confirmed the government isn’t planning to introduce vaccine passports and said people should ask their family doctors if they need to provide proof they have received a shot for travel purposes in future.
  • The World Health Organization praised the U.K.’s controversial decision to hold back the second doses of vaccines by as much as 12 weeks to give more people at least some protection with a first shot.
  • Ministers suggested the AstraZeneca vaccine would still be effective in preventing severe cases of Covid, after an early study found it offered limited protection against mild cases of the South Africa variant.
  • Small businesses with more than 50 employees will be able to roll out rapid virus tests to their workers, under an expanded government program.
  • Ministers are considering a proposal to offer vaccines to the under-50s from the spring, according to the Telegraph newspaper.

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