Millions of people aged 70 and over and those clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 will be invited to get their vaccinations as the National Health Service (NHS) expands the rollout of the vaccines to the next priority groups from Monday.
The NHS has so far been working to vaccinate the first two priority cohorts recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which are care home residents and staff, and those aged 80 and over and frontline health and care staff.
Vaccinating these groups will remain the priority, but vaccination sites which have enough supply and capacity for vaccinating further people are allowed to offer vaccinations to the next two cohorts – those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable people.
"Today is a significant milestone in our vaccination programme as we open it up to millions of more people who are most at risk from Covid-19," said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
"We are now delivering the vaccine at a rate of 140 jabs a minute and I want to thank everyone involved in this national effort. We have a long way to go and there will doubtless be challenges ahead – but by working together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus," he said.
The expansion means that areas that have already vaccinated the majority of care home residents, frontline health and care staff and people aged 80 and over to keep up the momentum and start vaccinating further at-risk people, helping the NHS to reach the government's commitment of offering vaccinations to the top four JCVI priority groups by the middle of February.
"Now that more than half of all over-80s have had their jab, we can begin vaccinating the next most vulnerable groups. Where an area has already reached the vast majority of groups 1-2, they can now start opening up the programme to groups 3-4," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"We are working day and night to make sure everyone who is 70 and over, our health and social care workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable are offered the vaccine by the middle of February and our NHS heroes are making huge strides in making this happen," Hancock said.
It comes as the NHS staff start delivering the two available Covid vaccinations – Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca – at a rugby ground, racecourse, food court and cathedral from Monday as 10 new large-scale Vaccination Centres open up.
The new sites mean there will be 17 Vaccination Centres offering people an alternative to the around 1,200 hospitals and GP-led services offering the vaccine service. Latest data released shows that the NHS has delivered more than 3.79 million jabs so far, including vaccinating more than one in three people aged 80 and over.
"The NHS vaccination programme has got off to a strong start with our hard-working staff delivering more than 3 million vaccinations while also dealing with the latest wave of coronavirus infections," said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England's medical director.
"The rapid progress we have already made is testament to NHS staff who are pulling out all the stops to vaccinate the most vulnerable while caring for so many people who are seriously ill with Covid. In the most challenging of circumstances we are seeing the very best of the NHS," he said.
The message for eligible people is that anyone who cannot or does not want to travel to Vaccination Centres can wait to be vaccinated by their local GP service or hospital. The priority groups are being invited when it is their turn and the NHS has cautioned that people must wait for intimation and cannot just turn to get vaccinated.