Boris Johnson promised to give a dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 13.2 million nursing home residents, those over 70, frontline health workers and Britons who were classified as "at risk" by mid-February.
It is the first time the government has set a target number of vaccinations for fear that the government will dispense doses too slowly to lift restrictions by Easter, as the Prime Minister has proposed.
But the prime minister added a number of caveats to his goal, saying that it would depend on whatever goes in the government's favor.
The Prime Minister said: “By mid-February, when things are going well and there is a good wind in our sails, we expect that we will have offered the first dose of vaccine to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization .
“That means that everyone in an older adult care home and their caregivers will be vaccinated, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social workers, and anyone who is at extreme clinical risk.
“If we can vaccinate all of these groups, we will have removed a large number of people from the path of the virus. And, of course, that will allow us to lift many of the restrictions we have been through for so long. & # 39;
Experts warned today that the UK may not be free of coronavirus restrictions until next winter if the NHS fails to meet its ambitious goal of vaccinating 2 million people every week.
In his televised address tonight, the Prime Minister said there was "a big difference" from last year: "We are now launching the largest vaccination program in our history."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set his best-case schedule for vaccinating all over-70s, frontline workers and vulnerable people by February, but warns to be careful about the schedule
Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches Jennifer Dumasi receive the Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London today
"So far we have vaccinated more people in the UK than in the rest of Europe combined," he added.
He said the pace of vaccination "accelerated" with the introduction of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.
Mr Johnson outlined the NHS '"realistic expectations" for the vaccination program in the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister said all people over 70 and those with the most serious long-term health conditions are at "high risk" from Covid.
Other members of the high priority group, which includes 14.3 million people, are health and social workers, who could all receive a single dose at an ambitious rate of 2 million per week within seven weeks, so by mid-February.
"If we manage to vaccinate all of these groups, we will have removed a large number of people from the path of the virus," said the Prime Minister.
"And of course that will allow us to lift many of the restrictions we have seen for so long."
He added, “I must emphasize that even if we achieve this goal, there will be a two to three week lag from a sting to immunity.
& # 39; And there will be another time lag before pressure on the NHS is relieved. So we should be careful about the upcoming timetable.
"But if our understanding of the virus doesn't change dramatically again …"
'If the launch of the vaccination program continues to be successful …
& # 39; If deaths start to decline while the vaccine takes effect …
& # 39; And critical when everyone plays their part by following the rules …
“Then I hope that we can steadily move out of the lockdown, reopen the schools after the middle of February, and cautiously start moving regions downwards.
But Mr Johnson's tentative promise could stall as the vaccine launch hasn't been hiccup-free so far.
If the vaccination drive is stepped up to meet the target, it will be until April for everyone over 50, adults with serious illnesses, and millions of NHS and social workers to get their first dose.
However, it would take another 15 weeks for the same Brits to get the second dose they need to give them as much protection from the disease as possible, which means the deadline will be reached by August at the earliest.
However, number 10 could relax restrictions by then if they believe they have protected enough of the population to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
However, there are still big questions about whether the NHS will be able to hit a goal of 2 million bumps per week. Scientists say Britain has to be "very fast" to hope for a normal summer.
The heads of AstraZeneca are committed to delivering the weekly dosing milestone by mid-January. And the NHS has promised that they can hand them out asap.
Brian Pinker, 82, was the first to receive the Oxford University vaccine today
However, there already seem to be cracks in the supply chain. Only 530,000 doses of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine will be available for vulnerable people this week, despite officials promising at least 4 million just weeks ago.
Last week, scientists attributed the vaccine's slow roll-out to lack of government investment and neglect in manufacturing.
Sir John Bell, a Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and a member of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies), said insufficient investment in vaccine manufacturing capability left Britain unprepared.
He accused successive governments of failing to build onshore medical device manufacturing capabilities, and Oxford / AstraZeneca relied on outsourced companies to make cans such as Halix in the Netherlands, Cobra Biologics in Staffordshire and Oxford Biomedica.
After the vaccine is manufactured by these companies, it will be shipped to a facility in Wrexham operated by an Indian company, Wockhardt, where it will either be shipped to another facility in Germany or transferred to vials.
UK chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned that vaccine availability "will remain so for several months" as companies struggle to keep up with global demand.
To ensure supplies of rations, the government promised to give single doses of the Pfizer vaccine to as many people as possible, rather than giving a second dose to those already vaccinated.
The makers of the Pfizer and Oxford / AstraZeneca collars have concerns that there is no problem with the supply.
Trevor Cowlett, 88, receives Oxford University / AstraZeneca Covid vaccine from Nurse Sam Foster at Churchill Hospital in Oxford as the NHS pushes its vaccination program
Sir Richard Sykes, who led a review of the government's vaccines task force in December, added that he was "unaware" of a supply shortage.
In the meantime, the government appeared to be trying to spend the money on the vaccination program before it had a chance to fail. The prime minister said the program stalled as officials waited for batches of the sting to be approved by EU regulators.
The UK's Medicines and Health Products Regulator (MHRA) was the first in the world to approve both Pfizer and Oxford jabs. However, it has stipulated that each batch of vaccine must be individually checked and quality-controlled if it has previously arrived in the UK to be injected into the arms of the British.
Dr. June Raine, head of MHRA, today denied the prime minister's claim that the batch approval process had stalled adoption, suggesting that issues were further down the supply chain.
Dr. Raine said her team is "nimble and quick" and can approve a batch in less than 24 hours.
She told the BBC: “It's a supply chain that goes from the manufacturer to the MHRA and then to the clinical bedside or where the vaccines are delivered. So we are a step on the way, but our capacity is there, that's very clear to me …
Boris Johnson speaks to NHS staff waiting to be vaccinated against coronavirus during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital after the NHS stepped up its vaccination program
& # 39; I was very proud when we approved the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine last Wednesday that we approved the first batch the night before. We are so nimble and so fast. & # 39;
Matt Hancock also appeared to be pointing a finger at AstraZeneca, the British drug company responsible for making and distributing the Oxford Jab, for the slow scale-up.
The Minister of Health insisted that the NHS be ready to give doses of the Oxford University vaccine as soon as possible, but added: "The supply is not yet in place."
And Professor Stephen Powis, Director of the NHS England added, "If we get two million a week, our goal is to get two million a week into people's arms."
The NHS started handing out Oxford / AstraZeneca's groundbreaking Covid vaccine today at what has been called a "crucial moment" in the fight against the pandemic. An 82-year-old dialysis patient was the first to receive the sting.
Brian Pinker, a retired maintenance manager who describes himself as being born and raised in Oxford, said he was "very pleased" with the vaccine and "really proud" that it was developed in his city.
Vaccines may not work against mutated South African variants of Covid
Coronavirus vaccines may be ineffective against the highly infectious South African mutation, warned a scientist who helped develop the Oxford sting.
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said the African variety was more worrying than Kent's.
Vaccines are believed to be effective against the highly infectious British variant VUI-202012/01, which is currently causing a massive surge in cases across the country.
But he said the South African variant 501.V2 – which has been detected in two locations in the UK – has "really quite significant changes in the structure of the protein," meaning vaccines may not work.
The Covid vaccine protects against the disease by teaching the immune system how to fight off the pathogen.
It creates antibodies – disease-fighting proteins that are made and stored to help ward off intruders in the future by attaching themselves to their spike proteins.
However, if they cannot recognize proteins because they are mutated, it may mean that the second time the body is having difficulty attacking a virus, leading to a second infection.
However, experts told MailOnline today that there is no publicly available data to suggest the strain has the ability to evade the current iteration of thrusts, although it is more portable.
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, claimed he was "almost certain" that the vaccines will still be effective at some level.
He added that in the unlikely event that a new strain made vaccines obsolete, it would take "a few days or less" to optimize the bursts to target them.
The South African variant originated in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, the first major urban area to be hit by the country's second wave.
It was discovered in mid-December and caused Covid cases to soar from less than 3,000 per day at the beginning of the month to more than 9,500 per day by Christmas, accounting for up to 90 percent of those new infections.
Mr. Pinker is now looking forward to celebrating his 48th wedding anniversary with Mrs. Shirley next month.
The UK vaccination program only managed to vaccinate 1 million people in the four weeks it was in operation.
However, officials have promised that the program will accelerate dramatically when clinics deploy the Oxford University / AstraZeneca groundbreaking push, first launched today.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline he would be "very surprised" if ministers hadn't loosened some curbs by April, when hopefully millions had been vaccinated.
He added, "I can see we have some restrictions around this time next year as well."
Professor Hunter said curbs would likely be a lot less severe and could depend on how many of the most vulnerable residents sign up for a vaccine.
When uptake is high, the virus has less room to spread and cause serious illness.
However, he said the only surefire way to lift all restrictions is to make sure enough of the population has become immune for the virus to fail.
Scientists believe that this can only be achieved if 70 percent of people are protected and top US coronavirus doctor Anthony Fauci has warned the number could go as high as 90 percent.
Government scientists have set a goal of 2 million vaccinations per week as this means that the most vulnerable third of the UK population will have some protection by Easter and can get their full two doses before fall before winter pressures return on the NHS did.
At a pace of just 1 million a week, it would take the UK 30 weeks to vaccinate all at-risk residents in phase one of the vaccination campaign.
This means they wouldn't get their second dose until next February and the healthcare sector could face another winter crisis.
Number 10, however, will not necessarily wait for the entire cohort to be vaccinated before the cycle of restrictions is relaxed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last month that measures can be relaxed "if enough people susceptible to Covid have been vaccinated". However, he never committed to an actual character.
Experts say the number of vaccines the UK will issue before lockdown rules can be relaxed depends on Downing St's "risk appetite" and how well the shocks work in real life.
If measures are lifted too early, there may be spikes in severe cases, hospital admissions, and deaths in medium-risk groups but not a priority for a vaccine such as middle age.
The NHS says people over 70 and people with the most serious long-term health conditions are at "high risk" from Covid.
Together with health and social workers, these form a group of 14.3 million people who could each be given a single dose at an ambitious rate of 2 million per week within seven weeks, so by mid-February.
However, lifting the ban rules by then would mean that younger groups, for example in their 60s, 50s and 40s, would be at risk from a virus that was uncontrollable at the time.
And it would mean those already vaccinated would not have the full protection of two doses, both of which require vaccines.
Because of this, experts believe the UK's restrictions are more likely to be lifted for an extended period of time to stop the virus spiral in younger people who are still at low risk of hospitalization, death or long-term complications.
Dr. Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline last week, “It's all very good to vaccinate everyone over 65 and other people with long-term health conditions, but the average ICU intake is 60 and there are more men in her 40s in intensive care with Covid than over 85 years. & # 39;
High street pharmacists are “baffled” not to be called by No10 to introduce the vaccine
High street pharmacists said today they were "stunned" they had not been called to help launch the UK's ambitious Covid vaccine.
Number 10 wants to immunize two million Brits against the disease every week in order to lift the most draconian lockdown restrictions by Easter.
However, the government faces a number of logistical hurdles to accomplishing the goal, including trying to recruit enough people to deliver the record number of doses.
The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said the 11,500 pharmacies it represents in England were ready to begin delivering the jabs immediately.
Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of AIMP, told MailOnline: & # 39; We are amazed at how the accessibility, capabilities and affordability that pharmacies in the community offer have not yet been used to accelerate this program and make the country faster to bring this virus under control.
"Pharmacies are very conveniently placed in any community to provide large-scale Covid vaccination service and support the NHS, especially the AstraZeneca vaccine, as it does not present the same logistical challenges as the Pfizer vaccine."
An army of tens of thousands of medical professionals and volunteers have been hired to help deliver the Oxford vaccine, according to NHS England, which has refused to provide certain numbers.
But just last week, GPs warned of the need for a major recruiting offensive, calling for the enrollment of retired medics, the army, midwives and other non-frontline health workers.
The AIMP said tens of thousands of employees could start managing the shock right away, saving the NHS from having to train new recruits.
Ms. Hannbeck added, “Pharmacists are already trained to be vaccinated and the vast majority have the facilities. Why are their skills and expertise not being used as an urgent priority right now?
'With the community pharmacy currently involved in the NHS national flu vaccination, it would be logical and would save taxpayers resources to use existing structures and resources in one of the few areas of retail that is continuously open during the pandemic and lockdowns stayed.
& # 39; If done through the pharmacy, it is likely that more wound patients will respond to booster recalls and Covid-19 intake in general. The pharmacy staff are very happy with the way they deal with patients' concerns and trust that they will follow their advice.
"Public feedback on the community pharmacy continues to rate its accessibility, professionalism and efficiency very high. A recent public survey found that over 70 percent of people were very happy to be vaccinated through their local community pharmacy."
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