Covid UK: Britons aged 65 to 69 will begin to receive jab from tomorrow

The priority groups for vaccinations in the UK 

1. Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults

2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers

3. All those 75 years of age and over

4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)

5. All those 65 years of age and over

6. Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group 

7. All those 60 years of age and over

8. All those 55 years of age and over

9. All those 50 years of age and over

10. Rest of the population

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Millions of over-65s and clinically vulnerable people are being asked to book appointments to receive their coronavirus vaccination as Britain’s breakneck inoculation programme enters its next phase. 

The Government is officially expanding its vaccine rollout beyond the top four priority groups, and is on track to offer the jab to all of the most vulnerable people by tomorrow – with official figures showing that more than 14.5 million people have already had at least one dose.  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously signalled that mass vaccination will bring the hated cycle of coronavirus lockdowns to an end, and is now under pressure from Tory backbenchers to scrap all restrictions by the end of April.

Almost 1.2 million letters were due to have landed on the doorsteps of over-65s and the clinically vulnerable by yesterday asking people to log onto the national booking service, NHS England has said.

A further 1.2 million are due to arrive this week, with those to receive a letter able to choose from more than 100 vaccination hubs or almost 200 pharmacy services. 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation defines clinically vulnerable people as those with conditions including chronic respiratory disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis and severe asthma. 

Until now, the national vaccine rollout has been aimed at the over-70s, the clinically extremely vulnerable, and NHS frontline staff, care home residents and workers. 

However, some regions have already started vaccinating people aged between 65 to 69, with NHS England previously saying that people in this age group could get a vaccine if GPs have supplies.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said the programme has already protected more than 12 million of the most vulnerable people against Covid-19. 

He said: ‘This is an exciting moment as we now move on to those aged 65 and over and the clinically vulnerable as part of our plan to vaccinate as many people as possible who can benefit from it.

‘However, if you have already been offered a jab but have not taken it up it is not too late. Please come forward and help us to help.’

A woman receives the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre in Ealing, West London as the Government meets its target of delivering 15 million jabs

A woman receives the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre in Ealing, West London as the Government meets its target of delivering 15 million jabs

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘The vaccination programme is continuing at an unprecedented speed and, as we’re on target to offer vaccines to all those in the first four priority groups by Monday, we are determined to keep up the momentum by expanding it even further.’  

Speaking at a vaccination bus in Greenwich, South East London, Professor Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director of NHS England, urged everyone who receives a letter to get the vaccine without hesitation. 

‘Don’t hesitate at all. These vaccines are safe, they’re effective against Covid, they’ll protect you, they’ll protect your loved ones, and of course they’ll help get society back to normal again,’ he added.

It comes as official figures show the number of Covid-related deaths among over-85s is falling twice as fast as it is in younger Britons – raising hopes that the UK’s vaccine drive is clicking into gear.  

In other coronavirus developments: 

  • There were claims that some care home bosses are threatening staff who refuse to have the jab with the sack;  
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock clashed with senior Tory Sir Charles Walker over the ten-year jail terms facing those who flout new quarantine rules, with Sir Charles saying the policy was ‘disastrous’ and a repeat should cost the Health Secretary his job;
  • The head of Heathrow warned that the airport is not ready to roll out the hotel quarantine scheme set to be imposed from tomorrow;
  • AstraZeneca said it would expand trials of its Oxford vaccine to children as young as six while Janssen, another pharma firm, said it may start testing its jab on newborn babies and pregnant women;
  • Police said officers would be carrying out spot checks on drivers today to see if they were making ‘non-essential’ trips to visit lovers on Valentine’s Day;
  • A video emerged of militant teachers boasting about how they used threats of strike action to keep classrooms closed, fuelling fears that hardline unions will seek to derail plans to reopen schools;
  • Documents emerged suggesting the Wuhan laboratory at the centre of global suspicion over the pandemic planned to experiment on live bats;
  • Additional surge testing began in Middlesbrough, Walsall and Hampshire after cases of the South Africa variant of Covid-19 were identified.

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report suggests there were 695,400 Covid-19 cases in England alone by February 6, down 31 per cent from a fortnight ago in yet another firm sign the second wave is in retreat. This equates to one in eighty people having the virus

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report suggests there were 695,400 Covid-19 cases in England alone by February 6, down 31 per cent from a fortnight ago in yet another firm sign the second wave is in retreat. This equates to one in eighty people having the virus

Health conditions that make patients in Priority Group Six eligible for a vaccine 

A blood cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)

Diabetes

Dementia

A heart problem

A chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma

A kidney disease

A liver disease

Lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as HIV infection, steroid medication, chemotherapy or radiotherapy)

Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or psoriasis (who may require long term immunosuppressive treatments)

Have had an organ transplant

Had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

A neurological or muscle wasting condition

A severe or profound learning disability

A problem with your spleen, example sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed

Are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)

Are severely mentally ill

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The Government’s target of administering 15 million doses is set to be hit this weekend, amid a backdrop of falling cases and deaths, with pressure growing on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to present his ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.

The supreme efforts of volunteers over recent weeks now appears to be paying dividends, with the number of fatalities among the oldest age group now falling on average by some 41 per cent a week.

By contrast, the number of weekly deaths is falling by 22 per cent for those aged under 65.

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a risk expert from the University of Cambridge, told the Sun: ‘There is a statistically significant difference between the age groups. A substantial amount of this difference will be vaccines.

‘And, by the end of the month, it’s going to be quite dramatic. It is quite tricky to spot as deaths are falling everywhere – it’s just that in older groups the drop is much faster than others.’

Meanwhile, data from the Office for National Statistics reveals just one in every 100 people offered a Covid jab have turned it down.

The Prime Minister said yesterday he is ‘optimistic’ he will be able to begin announcing the easing of restrictions when he sets out his ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown in England on February 22.

Speaking during a visit to the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies plant in Billingham, Teesside, where the new Novavax vaccine will be manufactured, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m optimistic, I won’t hide it from you. I’m optimistic, but we have to be cautious.’

He said his first priority remained opening schools in England on March 8 to be followed by other sectors.

‘Our children’s education is our number one priority, but then working forward, getting non-essential retail open as well and then, in due course as and when we can prudently, cautiously, of course we want to be opening hospitality as well,’ he said.

‘I will be trying to set out as much as I possibly can in as much detail as I can, always understanding that we have to be wary of the pattern of disease. We don’t want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret.’   

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said his country had begun contacting some over-50s.

Oxford Covid vaccine will be tested on children as young as six in world-first trial

Researchers are to use 300 child volunteers to test the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine on youngsters aged between six and 17. 

The clinical trial will assess whether the jab – known as the the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine – will produce a strong immune response in children in that age bracket. 

The Oxford jab is one of three to have been approved for use in adults in the UK, along with those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: ‘While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.

‘These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 to younger age groups.’

The first vaccinations under the trial will take place this month, with up to 240 children receiving the vaccine and the others receiving a control meningitis jab.

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Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she expects many in the 65-69 age group to have had their first jab by the middle of this month after the vast majority of older people were vaccinated.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health is offering everyone over 65 a vaccine by the end of February as it works its way through priority groups four and five, although it is expected to help the UK meet its overall target.  

There is variation in uptake between age groups, however, with five per cent of those offered the vaccine aged 30-49 deciding not to receive it, compared to two per cent for the 50-69s and less than one per cent for the over-70s. 

Furthermore, Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said the uptake of the coronavirus jab among care home staff remains ‘far too low’.

Prof Harnden said that nationally only 66% of care home staff had taken up the offer of a first dose.

‘If they are to stop potentially transmitting to those vulnerable people who they look after and care for deeply, they need to take the immunisation up. The message needs to come across loud and clear,’ he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

However, he rejected suggestions that the vaccine could be made compulsory among staff if they wanted to carry on working in care homes.

‘I would much prefer to be able to persuade by the power of argument than to force people or to make people lose their jobs because they didn’t take up the vaccine.’ 

His comments come as the Government launches a fresh drive to encourage people to accept a vaccine amid continuing reluctance among some groups.

Ministers are confident they will achieve their UK-wide target of getting an offer of a vaccine to those most at risk from the virus – including all over 70s – by Monday’s deadline.

Fresh Government drive to encourage people to accept jabs

The Government has launched a fresh drive to encourage people to accept a vaccine amid continuing reluctance among some groups.

Ministers are confident they will achieve their UK-wide target of getting an offer of a vaccine to those most at risk from the virus – including all over 70s – by Monday’s deadline.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped a combination of vaccines and new treatments will mean Covid-19 could be a ‘treatable disease’ by the end of the year.

However, there is concern in Government at the rate of vaccine uptake among some communities – including some ethnic minorities.

Mr Hancock issued a direct appeal to anyone over 70 who has still not had the jab to contact the NHS over the weekend to book an appointment.

‘I am determined that we protect as many of our country’s most vulnerable people from this awful disease as soon as possible,’ he said. ‘Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic.’

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped a combination of vaccines and new treatments will mean Covid-19 could be a ‘treatable disease’ by the end of the year.

However, there is concern in Government at the rate of vaccine uptake among some communities – including some ethnic minorities.

Mr Hancock issued a direct appeal to anyone over 70 who has still not had the jab to contact the NHS over the weekend to book an appointment.

‘I am determined that we protect as many of our country’s most vulnerable people from this awful disease as soon as possible,’ he said. ‘Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic.’

Overall, uptake of the vaccine has been high, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) reporting a 93% take-up rate among the over 75s in England.

The DHSC is now seeking to work with community organisations and charities in England to address the concerns that are making some reluctant to get the jab, while seeking to dispel ‘myths’ circulating on social media.

At the same time it is looking to raise awareness of how the vaccines are being made generally available, especially among ethnic minorities, homeless people, asylum seekers and those with disabilities.

Around 30 ministers are taking part in visits and virtual meetings, including Home Secretary Priti Patel and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi.

‘We recognise that some groups feel more hesitant about getting a jab, or have more barriers, both physical and mental, preventing them from accessing one when it’s offered,’ Mr Zahawi said.

Mr Hancock, meanwhile, expressed the hope that coronavirus will become ‘another illness that we have to live with’ like flu.

‘I hope that Covid-19 will become a treatable disease by the end of the year,’ Mr Hancock told The Daily Telegraph.

‘If Covid-19 ends up like flu, so we live our normal lives and we mitigate through vaccines and treatments, then we can get on with everything again.’

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he agreed with the Health Secretary’s comments about the UK potentially living with coronavirus in the future in the same way as the flu.

Matt Hancock said he hoped Covid-19 will become a treatable disease by the end of the year.

Prof Altmann told Times Radio: ‘I agree with the ‘by the end of the year’ part, I think the jury’s out on what the future will look like.’

On news of the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals going down, he said: ‘We’re all following the data in the UK and from Israel, who are a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of vaccinations, and seeing those transmission graphs absolutely being quashed.

‘We can’t easily pick apart how much of that is lockdown, how much is vaccination, but it’s certainly both of those things.

‘I am cautiously optimistic that we are winning finally.’

TONY BLAIR: The world needs to agree a form of Covid passport – and Britain should lead the way

Lockdown is the weapon of choice of Governments around the world to reduce the spread of Covid-19, but let’s be clear – the effects on the nation’s health and economy are severe. 

Jobs and livelihoods lost. A huge bill for future generations to pay. It means postponing the treatment of other conditions like heart disease and cancer; and a deterioration of mental health.

The reality, however, is that lockdown will stay until the vaccination programme reaches a large enough number of the population to give us some form of herd immunity.

It is fortunate that Britain is in a good place relative to the rest of the world, says former Prime Minister Tony Blair (pictured)

It is fortunate that Britain is in a good place relative to the rest of the world, says former Prime Minister Tony Blair (pictured)

The new variants of Covid-19, with greater transmission rates but not lower deadliness, combined with the alarming recognition that more variants could be on the way, have left us a horrible choice: mass vaccination or mass lockdown.

Globally, there is a vast scrambling to get vaccine. It is fortunate that Britain, with a well-executed plan to source vaccines, including our own Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, is in a good place relative to the rest of the world.

Even so, each week that passes before we can re-emerge to some form of ‘normal’ is a hammer blow.

What happens, though, when a majority of our population is vaccinated but other countries lag behind? How does the world return to at least some of the physical interaction we used to take for granted?

This is not just about holidays. It’s also about business travel and freight.

It’s about improving levels of confidence in going back to the workplace. Travelling on public transport. Joining events with large crowds. Most of all, seeing loved ones, especially those who may be among the most vulnerable to Covid-19.

With my team at the Institute for Global Change, I have looked at this from every angle and come to this conclusion: there is no prospect of a return to anything like normal without enabling people to show their Covid status, whether that means they have been vaccinated or recently tested.

And the good news is that technology allows us to make this work effectively and with privacy.

More than 120 countries, including our own, already demand that international travellers show proof of a full negative test result before entry. Once vaccinations become widespread, this demand will naturally move to vaccination.

Call it a passport, a certificate or proof of status – we will want to know.

We can’t stay in lockdown for ever. But we know from experience that as we come out of lockdown, the disease will start to spread again unless we keep some form of controls on who can come into our country and unless we take reasonable precautions to stamp on any outbreak should it recur.

This is not about discrimination, or hostility towards those not vaccinated or tested. It is a completely understandable desire to know whether those we mix with might be carrying the disease.

Have they had an internationally recognised test (based on PCR swabs, which look for traces of Covid’s genetic material, or other equally valid tests as they are developed) to demonstrate that they are free form the virus?

Have they been vaccinated and, if so, is that with one or two jabs?

It is increasingly obvious that other countries feel the same. There is already a host of initiatives starting around the world with this aim in mind.

My Institute for Global Change is involved in many of them, including the CommonPass initiative from the World Economic Forum. Individual countries such as Greece, which is conscious of the huge impact of Covid on its tourist industry, are calling for global agreement on the issue. The African Union has started its own preparations.

The airline and tourism industries are among those most anxious for such a passport. Tourism accounts for roughly ten per cent of the world economy. It employs millions the world over, including in Britain.

And that means a wide range of businesses are clinging on, effectively on government life-support – provided, that is, they’re lucky enough to be in countries where the government can just about afford to subsidise them.

But without clear light at the end of the tunnel, without confidence in the future, these businesses are going to collapse. Some already have.

Once it is plain that we need to know the status of someone in order to feel safe mixing with them, then certain other things must flow.

We need a system of verification that is simple, for example a QR code shown on a mobile. Or a valid paper certificate – one that minimises the possibility of fraud. We need something which is easily checked against an agreed set of standards.

It is not as if proof of vaccination is completely new. Many countries already require travellers to show such proof for yellow fever and other diseases.

What would be crazy is for the world to try operating with different standards, different means of verification, a patchwork, an unco-ordinated stack of competing systems. That would lead to chaos.

Governments will have to lead this. We cannot leave it up to GPs to issue paper certificates when they already have quite enough on their plate.

The sensible thing would be for the UK – which for 2021 has the lead in the G7 group of developed nations – to agree and help impose a common set of standards and rules in consultation with other countries and groups of nations. That would be in the interests of everyone.

But we should start work on it now so we’re ready to go by June when the G7 is held in Cornwall.

There is still so much we don’t know about Covid, and so much we will get to know thanks to our experience of mass vaccination. It seems likely, though, that those who are vaccinated are not merely less at risk from the disease but also transmit it less.

Early results from the AstraZeneca vaccine show a 67 per cent reduction in transmission after vaccination while data from Israel show only 0.04 per cent of those who had been vaccinated were then infected, none of them seriously.

We should also learn from our experience with testing. Early on, I became convinced that we should do mass testing, using rapid tests which could be done at scale even if they were admittedly less accurate than the gold standard PCR test.

When over half of those who get Covid suffer no symptoms but can still spread the virus, it always seemed odd to test only those with symptoms.

When Slovakia tested its whole population, using rapid tests, it discovered twice the number of cases as the previous official figures indicated.

The University of Illinois used mass testing on its campus to stay open through the pandemic.

In Liverpool, rapid tests picked up 70 per cent of those with high ‘viral loads’ (those who were heavily infected and might well have been passing it on) but who were nonetheless showing no symptoms.

Now – and with much better mass tests available – workplaces are being encouraged to use tests to reopen.

The point is this: people want to know that those with whom they come into contact are relatively safe – that they are less likely to give them the disease.

This will be the case not just with travel, but with our daily lives, too – with everything from going to work to visiting elderly relatives.

We have the technology which allows us to do this securely and effectively. The need is obvious. The world is moving in this direction.

We should plan for an agreed ‘passport’ now. The arguments against it really don’t add up.

Tony Blair is the founder and executive chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

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