Ministers are in a race to offer all over-50s a second coronavirus vaccine dose before the planned end of restrictions on June 21, the vaccines minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi said the Government was aiming to offer full protection to older people before the planned "unlocking" amid concern that the Indian variant could throw the roadmap off course.
The delivery of second doses to over-50s had already been accelerated after a Public Health England (PHE) study showed that both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are much less effective against the Indian variant after a single dose.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Mr Zahawi said the UK was "in a race" to get people vaccinated but the Government "hopes to be able to protect all over-50s with two doses before 21 June", due to be the next and final step in England's lifting of lockdown.
However, he later warned: “I could do with more supply” in order to “protect more people more rapidly”.
According to NHS data, less than half of those aged between 50 and 59 in England have already been vaccinated with both doses, although the figure rises to 90 per cent of those above the age of 70.
Scientists have warned that in Israel, where the vaccination rate has led the world, restrictions did not begin to fully lift until 70 per cent of the population was double jabbed.
In England, around 46 per cent of adults have received both doses.
Cutting the gap
Ministers have already cut the gap between recommended doses for the over-50s from 12 weeks to eight weeks in order to speed up the rollout.
However, NHS guidance has advised vaccination centres that they can be “pragmatic” in speeding up the timescale even further.
“Patients should be offered to receive their second dose in line with the recommended dosage intervals – 8-9 weeks (56-63 days) for people in priority cohorts 1-9, and 77-84 days (11-12 weeks) for people in cohorts 10 onwards,” according to a letter seen by The Telegraph.
“However local areas should agree a pragmatic approach to giving doses earlier than this following a clinical assessment and weighing up risks and benefits.”
Local authorities in areas where the Indian variant is spreading are focusing their efforts on giving out first doses to as many eligible people as possible, often without the need for appointments.
As many as 15,000 people are expected to be vaccinated at Twickenham station on Bank Holiday Monday, as as cases of the Indian variant surge in nearby Hounslow.
Organisers of the event, called Let’s Tackle Covid, have announced that people without an appointment will still be vaccinated.
Living with it
On Sunday night, a senior Whitehall source warned vaccination centres against offering jabs to those in their 20s or outside the current eligibility criteria.
“That is not doing the right thing,” the source said. “We need to continue to second jab at speed over-50s and all eligible groups.”
Mr Zahawi said the Government would wait for the latest data on June 14 before deciding whether to proceed the following week.
Asked whether the remaining restrictions could be eased if cases were still increasing, he told the Andrew Marr Show: "What I'm saying to you is we have to be cautious. We have to look at the data and share it with the country.
"Are we still vaccinating at scale? Big tick. Are the vaccines working? Yes. But are infection rates too high for us to then not be able to proceed because there are too many people getting into hospital? I don't know the answer to it.
"But we will know it on, hopefully, the 14th, in just a few more weeks."
He said that as the virus becomes endemic "we're going to have to live with a certain amount of Covid being transmitted".
Pressed on whether there could be a partial lifting of restrictions, with mask-wearing and working from home continuing, Mr Zahawi said: "We need to look at the data."