BRITAIN’S roadmap to out of lockdown is still “very much on course” despite delays to a key shipment of vaccines, a top Cabinet minister said today.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick insisted the UK remains on target to hit its key jabbing targets and ensure the route to freedom is unchanged.
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And he reassured Brits that everyone who needs a second dose will get one.
He made the remarks after NHS chiefs warned yesterday of a “significant reduction” in weekly supply from March 29.
Five million doses of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine were due to arrive later this month to help supercharge the immunisation blitz.
But the shipment from India has been delayed by four weeks – meaning millions of younger Brits will now have to wait a month longer for their jab.
Mr Jenrick said: “We do think there are going to be some supply issues in the weeks ahead but this isn’t anything people should worry about.
“We’re still on course to meet our targets. Nobody who has an appointment should be concerned, you’re still going to get your second vaccine.
“We always said right from the beginning a new manufacturing process would have its lumps and bumps.
“That was the case in the past and I’m sure it will be in the future.
“We’re sourcing vaccines from all over the world and we are experiencing occasionally some issues.
“The main thing is we’re still very much on course, we’ve still got line of sight to deliver the vaccines and meet our targets.”
Mr Jenrick said while the rollout over the next few weeks ‘won’t be as fast as we might have hoped for’ the pace will then pick up again.
He said: “We have every reason to believe that supply will increase the months of May, June and July.”
And the top minister insisted there’s no reason to fear the delay to vaccine supplies will mean the PM has to delay unlocking the country.
He said: “The vaccine rollout is our route out of this. The more people we vaccinate the easier it will be to open up our society.
“There’s no reason to believe the roadmap is affected by this temporary shortage on supply. There’s no concern we’re off course with the roadmap.”
Under the PM’s roadmap outdoor gatherings of up to six people or two separate households outdoors are to be allowed from March 29.
Outside sports will also be able to resume then.
Then April 12 is the next big date when non-essential shops, hairdressers, and some public buildings like libraries are set to reopen.
On May 17 most constraints on outdoor socialising should be lifted, and six people or two households will be allowed to meet indoors.
Pubs and restaurants will also be allowed to serve again inside, and hotels will reopen.
Finally, on June 21 it is planned that all legal limits on socialising will be ditched.
The supply delay means millions of younger Brits will have to wait longer for their first immunisation.
NHS bosses have told GPs to focus on delivering second shots to older patients and first doses to over-50s over the coming weeks.
And the second phase of the immunisation blitz is unlikely to start before mid-April.
Matt Hancock appeared to confirm the delay for younger Brits – saying the focus would remain instead on over 50s who have not claimed a jab.
He told a Downing Street press conference: “At the same time as opening up offers of vaccinations to all those who are 50 or above, we’re going to do whatever it takes to reach all those in the most vulnerable groups who haven’t come forward yet.
“Before we move on to the next cohort. And we will do that before we move on to people in their 40s.
“Before we forge ahead, I want us to be confident that we’ve done everything we can to protect those most in need of protection, and we will do all we can and do everything necessary to secure the supplies that are contractually committed to protecting people in this country.”
In response to further grilling on the NHS letter, he said: “As I said, the supply is always lumpy and we are on course to deliver the offer that everybody whose aged 50 and above will be able to get vaccinated by the end of April.
“Of course these supply schedules have moved up and down throughout the rollout, its absolutely par for the course, it’s a normal operational letter.”
Nearly one in two Brit adults have now had their first Covid jab, with 25.3 million now vaccinated against the pandemic.
It includes 95 per cent of those over the age of 65 – who are among the highest risk from the virus.
But the pace of the vaccination programme is now set to slow until the delayed shipment arrives in late April.
Officials hope the bump in the road will not change Boris Johnson’s pledge of offering a first dose to all adults by the end of July.
It comes as more than 25million Brits have now been jabbed in the fight against Covid – as the extraordinary vaccine rollout speeds on.
Britain has led the way in an astonishingly fast vaccination programme, with over-50s now being invited to book in for a jab.
Almost half the adult population has now been vaccinated against Covid.