Everyone over 50 in Britain to be offered vaccine by May

Government target revealed in press release confirming May local elections will go ahead

Britain is on track to offer everyone over 50 and younger people who are vulnerable a coronavirus vaccine by May, Boris Johnson’s government said on Friday. Britain has set a target of mid-February to offer a first vaccination dose to the top four priority groups, which include everyone over 70.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the plan to vaccinate the next five groups, including everyone over 50 and those between 14 and 65 with certain underlying health conditions, would depend on the vaccine supply.

"Lots of things have got to go right to hit that goal, especially supply, which is the rate-limiting factor, but I'm sure, working with the NHS and everybody else who is making this happen, that if we keep going at the pace we can, then we can make sure all the over-50s get the offer of a vaccine by May," he said.

News of the government’s target emerged by accident when it was included in a press release confirming that local elections in England would go ahead as planned on May 6th. The press release said the elections would be conducted in a safe and Covid-secure way with rules demanding that face coverings should be worn inside polling stations, which would be equipped with divider screens and supplies of hand sanitiser.


“The UK’s vaccination programme is planned to have reached all nine priority cohorts by May, meaning that the government can commit to go ahead with these polls with confidence – and maintain the choice for voters between voting in person or remotely,” it said.


Former chief whip Mark Harper, a leading advocate on the Conservative backbenches for easing coronavirus restrictions, said they should all be lifted by May.

“These top nine groups account for around 99 per cent of those that have died from Covid and about 80 per cent of hospital admissions. It will be almost impossible to justify having any restrictions in place at all by that point,” he said.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday there were clear signs that coronavirus infections in Britain were falling, with the R number, or reproduction rate, between 0.7 and 1. Britain has bought 50 million doses of a vaccine from the German company CureVac which can be adapted quickly to deal with new variants of coronavirus.

Clive Dix,  interim chair of Britain's vaccines taskforce, said the new vaccines would help the country to prepare for the eventuality that the coronavirus vaccine would need to be updated every year.

“Today’s agreement will mean the UK is better prepared for the emergence of any significant new virus variant,” he said.

“Because these mRNA vaccines can be rapidly adapted, we will be ready to respond swiftly to new strains and update vaccines in the same way the flu vaccine is updated each year – a vital part of ending the pandemic once and for all.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times