Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that he expects Covid restrictions can start to be lifted from spring next year and has “great hopes” for a more normal summer.
The positive outlook for next year comes after an English grandmother became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial today (8 Dec).
Margaret Keenan, 90, was given the vaccine in Coventry at 6.31am as the NHS mass vaccination programme began in the UK, with the first phase focussing on older people, health staff and care home workers.
‘Great hopes’ for 2021
Mr Hancock said the rollout of the vaccine could mean that the UK will be able to get back to normal ahead of the rest of the world, and expressed hope that restrictions could be lifted from spring.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said, “We’ve said that we think that, from the spring, things can start getting back to normal, and, because we’ve been able to get this vaccination programme going sooner than anywhere else in the world, we’ll be able to bring that date forward a bit.
“I have great hopes for summer 2021 and I hope we can lift the restrictions from the spring.”
However, Mr Hancock cautioned that people need to keep respecting the rules that are in place over the winter period, as the number of Covid cases are still rising in some parts of the UK.
Parts of Essex, Kent and London in particular are among the areas where infection rates are on the increase, with the Health Secretary expressing the importance of keeping rates under control.
“We’ve still got a long way to go on this march, we’ve got to keep our resolve for the next few months,” he added.
“But we all can see that we have a route out and we can get back to normal by the spring, I hope, certainly by the summer, but we’ve still got to stick at it for now.”
Several million vaccinations
It is hoped that “several million” people will have been vaccinated against the virus by Christmas, with jabs administered at 70 hospital hubs across the UK.The NHS vaccine programme will first target patients aged 80 and over who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, along with those who are being discharged after a hospital stay.
Care home providers have been asked to book staff into vaccination clinics, and GPs are expected to begin vaccinating care home residents shortly.
The UK government will be releasing figures on the number of people receiving the jab as the programme is rolled out, as this will be used to inform when restrictions are able to be lifted.
Mrs Keenan will be given a booster jab in 21 days’ time to ensure she has the highest level of protection against the virus.
Mr Hancock said, “As of this morning, right now several dozen people have been vaccinated and by Christmas several million people will have been vaccinated. But we’ve got to protect those who are vulnerable.
“The second dose is in three weeks’ time, and then it takes a week to get full immunity, so, even for those who were the first to be vaccinated, we’ve still got a month until they are protected.
“And then we’ve got to ensure that people who are vulnerable to this disease are protected and then we can lift the restrictions and that will take months, so we’ve got to stick at it.”
How will the vaccine be rolled out?
The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 20 million people with the required two doses, given 21 days apart.
The bulk of vaccinations will take place in January through to March or April for those who are at highest risk, including the over 80s, care home staff and healthcare workers.
This is the plan for the vaccine roll out, listed in order of highest priority:
- Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
- All those 65 years of age and over
- All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at
- higher risk of serious disease and mortality
- All those 60 years of age and over
- All those 55 years of age and over
- All those 50 years of age and over
- The rest of the population, with priority yet to be determined