Analysis: When will all over 50s be offered the Covid vaccine?

The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is prepared for administering. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

More than 10m have had at least one dose of the Covid vaccine in the UK - Credit: Denise Bradley

With the coronavirus vaccine programme continuing at pace, questions are now being asked about when younger age groups will be called up for the jab.

The government’s policy has always been to vaccinate the most vulnerable people first, with those over the age of 80, front line medics and carers and people with an “at risk” clinical condition at the front of the queue.

By the end of January, almost a quarter of the population in Norfolk and Waveney had received at least one jab. 

And now the government has raised hopes that the top nine priority groups - identified in the vaccine programme as all those over the age of 50 and all adults with at risk conditions – could have their first dose by the end of March.

That estimate is based on a number of assumptions. Government data shows there are just over 30m people in the top nine priority groups for vaccinations, including all those aged over 50.

The government is on track to give first doses to 15m people in the five top priority groups by mid-February. As of Thursday, more than 10 million people had been given their first dose. 

That leaves 15m people over the age of 50 who will not have had their dose by mid-February.

At the current rate of vaccinating around 500,000 people a day, all remaining over 50s would receive a first dose before the end of March.

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But, while obviously great news, other factors are muddying the waters.

So far, the government has focussed on getting as many people to have their first jab as possible, before starting mass rounds of second doses.

This policy, driven by the desire to give as many as possible some form of protection, has been criticised by some in the scientific and medical community, but was backed by a study this week.

But at some point, the government is going to have to decide to start giving the most vulnerable people, like those over the age of 80, their second dose before giving a first dose to healthy, middle-aged people. That would slow down the pace at which over 50s get their first dose.

So far, the sounds coming out of the NHS and government support the above timescale. In December, the head of the NHS said all over 50s would be offered a vaccination by “late spring.”

On Thursday, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted that the mid-February target for the must vulnerable to be vaccinated would be met and claimed capacity could be extended to beat the current record of 600,000 vaccinations a day.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi. Picture: David Jones/PA Wire

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi. Picture: David Jones/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Pressed on whether that meant it would take around a month days from February 15 to have jabbed all 31 million people in the first nine cohorts, Mr Zahawi told the BBC: "That assumes the supply, so I don't want to commit to a date without going through it with a very fine toothcomb with the whole team, because our limiting factor is the supply of vaccines ultimately.

"With any manufacturing process, especially one that is new, there are challenges around that, as we've seen in Europe and as we saw in the early days in the UK as well."

Once the first nine priority groups have been vaccinated, that leaves 41m people in the UK unvaccinated. Children will not be vaccinated, but if current capacity continues at 500,000 a day, all adults in the country could have been offered two doses by the end of the summer. 

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