Health Secretary boosts hopes of a return to normality as vaccine rollout races ahead

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Mr Hancock said: “I’m delighted that 598,389 people received their first Covid vaccine, the highest so far. It means that three-quarters of those over the age of 75 but under 80 and four-fifths of those over 80 have now been jabbed. In six months we’ll be in the middle, I hope, of a happy and free great British summer.

“I have a high degree of confidence that by then the vast majority of adults will have been vaccinated.

“Each vaccine administered brings us one step closer to normal.”

A Public Health England expert said the effect of the vaccination programme among the most vulnerable should be seen within a fortnight.

It came as Boris Johnson insisted he wants Europe and the rest of the world to receive vaccinations “at the same time” as the UK.

The Prime Minister said: “There’s no point one country on its own getting vaccinated.

“We can’t think of this just as a project for us and us alone. The most important thing about the Oxford vaccine is it obviously can be distributed at room temperature, which is great, but it’s also being distributed at cost around the world.

Mr Johnson added that the Government will “continue to take steps” to protect the UK’s security of vaccine supply.

He said: “You will have seen all this stuff about our friends across the Channel and disputes with them.

“All I would say is we’re very confident in our security of supply. We will continue to take steps to protect the UK’s security of supply and also to ensure that we ramp up our own manufacturing.”

Mr Hancock said the vaccine rollout was going “really well, very fast”.

He added it was impossible to predict when lockdown measures could start to be lifted and said ministers would need to see the impact of vaccines on the ground.

He said: “The good thing is that you can now see so many millions of people have been vaccinated, that [getting] the vaccine is clearly the right thing to do.

“So I think we’re going to have a great summer, but we’re going to have a tough few months between now and then.”

Latest Government figures yesterday showed 9½ million doses of the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines have now been dished out in the UK.

The total includes 8.98 million first doses and 491,000 second ones.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said every jab would bring the nation one step closer to normality.

He also praised the work of the Vaccine Taskforce and those delivering inoculations across the country.

And he said “the light at the end of the tunnel is getting even brighter” following positive results from the Novavax and Janssen vaccine trials last week.

Mr Kwarteng added: “With every new vaccine that is shown to be effective, and every shot in the arm, we take another step towards returning to normality.

“These are our loved ones, our friends and our family members, spanning generations, that we are determined to protect.

“We continue to move at an unprecedented rate to make sure we are doing everything we can.”

Some 21,088 new cases of Covid were confirmed in the UK yesterday, down almost a third on last Sunday’s figure of 30,000.

There were 587 deaths reported, down slightly from 610 a week ago.

Dr Susan Hopkins, COVID-19 strategic response director at Public Health England, said she expected to start seeing the impact of the vaccines on infection rates among the over-80s in the next two weeks.

She said: “We’re starting to see declines in over-70s and over-80s. It’s a bit early to say whether those declines are directly related to the vaccine.What we would like to see is a divergence in the case rate in the over-70s and over-80s who have been vaccinated from the younger age groups, to show that they are declining faster.

“We have now hit 80 percent of the over-80s being vaccinated and there are really fast numbers climbing in the under-80 age group as well.

“We expect over the next two weeks to start seeing that impact of that vaccine in that age group, and also an impact on hospitalisation.”

Dr Hopkins warned that despite a slowing in hospital admissions, the NHS will still be dealing with large numbers of patients until the end of March.

This is partly because better treatments mean people are surviving and staying in hospital for longer.

She said that lockdown measures must be relaxed “very cautiously” to avoid a surge in infections.

Dr Hopkins added: “We have to relax things really quite slowly, so that if cases start to increase we can clamp down quite fast.”

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