Sturgeon hits out at Ross for 'disgraceful' vaccine criticism
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the stockpile will “keep us safe and free” from a potential virus surge in the autumn. The new order of Pfizer/BioNTech doses means the NHS will have enough supplies to give every adult a third shot to renew protection against the virus. It comes as England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam suggested “we are at or close to the bottom” of levels of coronavirus cases in the UK. He added: “I am personally hopeful that if the vaccine programme continues at pace, the third wave might just be a third upsurge.”
The new order brings the number of Pfizer vaccine doses the Government has procured to 100 million – the same as the number of AstraZeneca shots ordered.
In theory, this means people should be able to have a booster shot of the same vaccine they originally had.
Professor Van-Tam also said a study was under way to look at whether it was necessary to use the same vaccine someone had for their first two jabs for their booster.
Mr Hancock confirmed that the latest data, including figures showing seven in 10 adults now have protective Covid-19 antibodies, means the country is on target for lifting further lockdown restrictions next month.
He said: “The data shows that we are essentially on track for where we expected to be at this point and that is obviously good news.
“It means we can follow the roadmap – and we look at the data all the time.”
Announcing the new Pfizer deal at a Downing Street news conference, the Health Secretary said: “To keep us safe and free here, while we get this disease under control across the whole world, we have been working on a programme of booster shots for over a year now.
“And we’ve backed some of the only clinical trials in the world looking specifically at booster shots.
“I’m delighted to be able to tell you that we’ve secured a further 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that will be used alongside others as part of our booster shot programme later this year.”
Mr Hancock, 42, who is due to receive his own first Covid jab today, said the Government now had the “first concrete evidence” of how vaccines reduce transmission within households.
He said: “We’re looking at whether the second dose gives an even bigger effect.
“What it means is the evidence is stacking up that the vaccine protects you, your loved ones and is the way out of this pandemic. We’re going to keep monitoring the data but, as of today, we are on track for step three on May 17 and that is good news.”
Government figures yesterday showed the UK vaccine programme has hit 47.5 million. Of the total, 33.9 million were first doses and 13.6 million were second doses.
Official figures showed the daily coronavirus death toll was 29 yesterday, bringing the total to 127,480.
Professor Van-Tam warned that a third wave of Covid was likely in the autumn but said he was “hopeful” that the vaccines programme could reduce it to an “upsurge” with much lower levels of hospitalisations and deaths.
He said: “The modelling consensus is clear, we will have what’s called a third wave.
“I am fairly hopeful that if the vaccine programme continues at pace and continues to be as successful as it has been the third wave might just be a third upsurge and much less significant because of the delinking of cases to hospitalisations and deaths. But I think it is inconceivable to think we will go from a period of relative calm, which is where we are now, with no further bumps in the road between now and this time next year.
“We are really in very low levels that are comparable to where we were in September last year.
“We are running as a typical seven-day average at just over 2,000 people testing positive per day.
“My sense is that probably we are at or close to the bottom at the moment in terms of this level of disease in the UK.”
Ben Osborn, managing director of Pfizer UK, said: “By more than doubling our supply commitment to the UK, we are delighted to support the ongoing rollout of the UK immunisation programme and help the Government in its efforts to address the pandemic.
“Along with our partner BioNTech, we are working relentlessly to support vaccination campaigns worldwide and, based on current projections, believe we can deliver more than 2.5 billion doses of our vaccine globally by the end of 2021.”
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “We are doing everything we can to make sure the most vulnerable are protected from Covid-19 now and in the future.
“Our brilliant Vaccines Taskforce has secured an extra 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to support our booster programme, which will be developed in line with the advice of our experts.”
Meanwhile, the Health Secretary has hinted there may be “good news” soon for care home residents currently required to isolate for two weeks after a trip out.
The Government has been threatened with legal action over the rule, which campaigners say encourages care homes to act unlawfully by “imprisoning” residents.
Mr Hancock said: “We are working on it right now, and in fact I had a meeting on this yesterday, to make sure we can get the rules right so that people can safely leave a care home and come back without bringing coronavirus back into the home.
“And especially now that vaccinations have taken place among residents. The vast majority have now had two doses and, among staff, vaccination rates are rising as well.
“Also, the rates of coronavirus are so much lower in the community. So I hope that we can have some good news for you soon.”
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