U.K. to Keep Vaccinating by Age as Scientists Urge Vigilance

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The U.K. said it will continue offering coronavirus vaccines according to age in the next phase of its inoculation program, as medical experts urged people to remain vigilant in respecting lockdown rules.

Those over 40 years old will be the next group to get the jabs, from mid-April, the government announced Friday, resisting calls to provide shots to younger people in at-risk professions.

“Trying to switch from an age-based program to an occupation-based program would be more complex,” Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, told an online briefing. “Speed is the critical factor.”

Details of the next stage of Britain’s vaccination program -- Europe’s most successful -- came alongside warnings that infections are rising in some parts of the U.K., even if the overall picture is of decline. Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, said people becoming too lax with the rules amid the vaccination success is an increasing danger.

“I do worry that people think it’s all over,” Van-Tam told a news conference Friday. “There’s a long way to go.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a plan to re-open the economy in stages as the vaccine rollout progresses, aiming for a full easing of restrictions by June 21. Non-essential retail will open no earlier than April 12, and indoor hospitality in pubs and restaurants not before May 17.

Preventing Deaths

With restrictions beginning to lift, some professionals -- such as teachers and retail workers -- had argued that they should be next in line to receive their vaccine, given the frequency of human contact in their jobs. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that approach had been rejected because vaccinating by age prevents more deaths.

As of Friday, 19.2 million people in the U.K. had received a first dose of the vaccine. Over 50s are due to be offered a jab by the middle of April.

In other developments:

  • Data published Friday showed an estimated 0.69% of the population in England had the disease in the week ending Feb. 19, the lowest level since October
  • The reproduction rate of the virus in the U.K. is between 0.6 and 0.9, the same as a week ago, the government said
  • 1 in 5 local authorities has seen a rise in cases in the last week, Van-Tam said
  • The U.K. reported an extra 345 Covid-related deaths, taking the toll to 122,415

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