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Vaccine programme target hit
Vaccination efforts have continued this week as the Government hit its target to offer everybody in phase 1 of the vaccination programme a jab. More than 32 million people have been given their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with jabs offered to everyone aged 50 and over, health and care workers and the clinically vulnerable. This group accounts for 99% of all COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic, so it is hoped that the most vulnerable are now protected.
Celebrating the ‘remarkable achievement’ Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I’m delighted that across the UK, we’ve met our target to offer a vaccine to everyone in the top nine priority groups, ahead of the deadline of 15 of April.’
Data from Public Health England’s real-world study shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 among older people aged 70 years and over. It estimates that over 10,400 deaths have been averted as a result of the COVID-19 vaccination programme up to the end of March 2021.
Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout
Phase 2 of the Government’s vaccine rollout commenced this week, with people aged 45 to 49 invited to book their appointments. This comes as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) advised that the continued vaccination rollout is based on age. It has also said that unvaccinated individuals who are at increased risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 on account of their occupation, male sex, obesity or ethnic background are likely to be vaccinated most rapidly by an operationally simple vaccine strategy. The NHS Confederation has called this approach ‘reassuring’ and called for more operational guidance for primary care teams.
It has also been confirmed that the Moderna vaccine, approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in January, will also be deployed in England across more than 20 vaccination sites. NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘The Moderna rollout marks another milestone in the vaccination programme. We now have a third jab in our armoury and NHS staff will be using it at more than 20 sites from this week, with more coming online as supplies expand.’
Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, has welcomed the successes of the vaccination programme but called for caution in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. He highlighted that the under 50s and the most vulnerable not yet vaccinated must receive their jabs. As society opens up this week, with non-essential shops, gyms, and beer gardens opened on Monday, he said: ‘We need to balance celebration with caution. The underlying reality of this horrible virus remains the same – as we increase social contact, the rates of transmission will go up as well.’
NHS England waiting lists
Statistics from NHS England, published this morning, highlight the ongoing backlog in NHS services, particularly for routine hospital care with a waiting list now at 4.7 million people. The number of people waiting for a key diagnostic test at the end of February was 1,151,200.
The Health Foundation responded to the statistics: ‘The Government and NHS leaders now need to be clear and realistic with the public about how they intend to get the NHS back to full strength. This includes dealing with the backlog of care, achieving the ambitions to modernise the NHS as set out in the long-term plan and anticipating the effects of long COVID and an expected rise in poor mental health. There will need to be significant investment at the next Spending Review if we are to see improvement on waiting lists and plugging staff shortages, which are holding back progress.’
NHS England has published a statement on the statistics where it highlighted that: ‘NHS staff completed almost two million operations and other elective care in January and February while also providing hospital treatment for almost 140,000 Covid patients.’