Britain is on course to vaccinate 30million people by March, it emerged yesterday as Boris Johnson began work to lead us out of lockdown.
The chief executive of AstraZeneca, which manufactures the Oxford jab, said he was confident the UK rollout would accelerate.
In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Pascal Soriot backed the Government's decision to delay the second dose of the vaccine.
He said: 'I have no doubt that the UK has made the right choice... thus maximizing the number of people vaccinated, which will reach 28-30million by March.'
The Government has already pledged to vaccinate its 15million most vulnerable citizens by February 15. Mr Soriot's projection would see the inoculation of almost everyone over 50 in two months' time.
Britain is on course to vaccinate 30million people by March, it emerged yesterday as Boris Johnson began work to lead us out of lockdown. Pictured: Boris Johnson on Tuesday
The chief executive of AstraZeneca (pictured, Pascal Soriot), which manufactures the Oxford jab, said he was confident the UK rollout would accelerate
A woman receives an injection of the Pfizer vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre set up at Cwmbran Stadium, south Wales, on Tuesday
Mr Johnson played down hopes of an early easing of lockdown restrictions, saying case numbers remain 'pretty forbiddingly high'.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty also used a Downing Street briefing to warn of the dangers of ending restrictions too soon.
However, No10 confirmed that work has begun on a 'road map' out of lockdown. The document is likely to be published around February 15, which is when the PM has pledged to review the current measures.
Government sources last night suggested the plan was likely to include milestones concerning vaccinations and hospitalisations that have to be met before any grand reopening.
One source said: 'It's at an early stage, but we are beginning to look at what the metrics and criteria will be when we are ready to start thinking about unlocking.
'What are the things that we need to get on top of before we can really get going, confident that we won't have to lock down again?
Boris Johnson on Tuesday lamented the UK's huge Covid death toll and offered his 'deepest condolences' to everyone that had lost a relative to coronavirus
'Obviously that will include things like vaccination numbers, the rate of transmission and the numbers being treated in hospital.
'Then there is obviously the areas that we will want to prioritise for reopening first, with schools at the top of the list.'
The move is designed to ease pressure from Tory MPs for an exit plan from lockdown.
The 70-strong Covid Recovery Group has demanded that unlocking begins from March 8, when the vaccination of the most vulnerable should have taken full effect.
Lockdown is likely to be replaced with a version of the tiered restrictions, with schools the first to reopen.
Official figures have shown a decline in Covid cases in recent days. Yesterday's figures revealed just over 20,000 cases in the previous 24 hours, with the seven-day average down by 26.4 per cent.
But Professor Whitty said separate ONS data suggested cases might be falling more slowly, adding: 'I think we need to be careful we do not relax too early.' He said the numbers in hospital with Covid were still 'incredibly high'.
He said this had 'flattened off' and was not still rising overall but was 'substantially above the peak in April'.
He said it looked like hospital figures were coming down slightly in areas such as London and the South East and the East of England, but in some areas levels were 'still not convincingly reducing'.
England and Scotland give out just 281,725 Covid vaccine doses on Monday as UK misses daily jab target for two days in a row amid European supply row
England and Scotland gave out only 280,000 Covid vaccines on Monday, official figures show, meaning Britain has missed its daily uptake target for the second day in a row.
Figures published today by the Department of Health reveal there were 281,725 jabs administered across the UK yesterday - of which 279,757 were given to people receiving their first dose.
The UK needs to be vaccinating at least 400,000 people every day for the next three weeks to fulfil Number 10's lofty promise of immunising all 15million of the most vulnerable Brits by mid-February.
Figures show about 6.8million Brits have received at least one dose of either the Oxford University/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, which leaves 8.1million still to be inoculated.
It comes after only 221,067 vaccines were administered on Sunday, down by more than half on the record high of 493,013 on Saturday.
However Britain remains ahead of all other countries in Europe in its vaccine drive and has one of the highest per-person rates in the world.
Vaccine centres are opening all over the UK but Matt Hancock last night admitted that supplies are 'tight' and the access to more doses is the 'rate-limiting factor' of the rollout (Pictured: Dale Snowden gets his vaccine in Sunderland)
Early figures show there were 220,000 vaccinations in the UK on Sunday and 281,725 on Monday, which means the UK is falling behind the 400,000-a-day figure needed to fulfil its targets
The figures came as Boris Johnson tonight warned the European Union that he expected it to honour government contracts for coronavirus vaccines as a deepening diplomatic row saw senior Brussels figures accused the UK of stealing jabs destined for countries in the bloc.
How many first doses of a Covid vaccine have been given out in each UK country as of January 25
According to Department of Health Data, a total of 6.85million people across the UK have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Here is a breakdown of each country:
First dose: 5,962,544
Second dose: 443,010
First dose: 437,900
Second dose: 6,060
First dose: 289,566
Second dose: 581
First dose: 163,317
Second dose: 22,795
First dose: 6,853,327
Second dose: 472,446
The UK and the EU were in a tense stand-off this evening as continental figures attempted to shift blame for its slovenly rollout of the inoculations in comparison to Britain.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen vowed to make firms declare what vaccines they are exporting to the UK as she scrambled to contain the backlash.
The commission president said a 'transparency mechanism' is being introduced as she insisted that the bloc 'means business' about getting its fair share of supplies.
And in a sign of Brussels' desperation an unnamed source told the Telegraph there were suspicions that AstraZeneca jabs earmarked 'to be delivered to the EU after market authorisation have actually ended up in Britain.'
But fronting a Downing Street press conference tonight Mr Johnson said he had 'total confidence' in the UK's supply of vaccines.
And in a warning shot at the EU he added: 'All I would say is obviously we expect and hope that our EU friends will honour all contracts.
'And we continue to work with friends and partners in the EU, and indeed around the world, because the delivery of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, the creation of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, and the delivery of the vaccine is multinational as well, because the virus knows no borders,' he said.
The sabre-rattling from Brussels, which comes amid growing chaos and protests across the continent, has incensed senior MPs, with warnings that the EU could 'poison' relations for a generation if it blocks some of the 40million Pfizer doses the UK has bought 'legally and fairly'.
Mr Johnson also offered his 'deepest condolences' to those who have lost relatives to coronavirus and pledged to ensure their loved ones are remembered as the Government's figure for Covid-19 deaths passed 100,000.
Last night, Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted that Britain was 'on track' to reach the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February.
He said that 6.6million people had now received a jab, more than one in nine of the adult population, and in the last week 2.5million got a vaccine, which was equal to a rate of more than 250 people per minute.
And, he said, 78.7 per cent of over-80s have received a jab.
Mr Hancock told the Downing Street press conference: 'We're on track to offer everyone in the top four priority groups a jab by February 15'.
The race to deliver the vaccine comes after care home residents have accounted for almost a third of the total number of coronavirus deaths in England and Wales. As of January 15 2021, a total of 30,851 residents had been killed by the virus.
Separate damning ONS figures show weekly fatalities among care home residents in England alone have almost tripled in the last fortnight, as the virus makes a deadly resurgence in the sector.
The number-crunching body said there were 1,705 deaths in English care homes reported to the Care Quality Commission in the seven days to January 2, up from 661 a fortnight ago.
The number-crunching body said there were 1,705 deaths in English care homes reported to the Care Quality Commission in the seven days to January 2, up from 661 a fortnight ago
EU block could mean UK misses out on millions of Covid vaccine doses
The UK could miss out on millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine if the European Union suspends deliveries to countries outside the bloc.
Britain is expecting to receive another 9million doses by mid-February from Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech.
But if Eurocrats blockade jab exports across the channel, American drugs company Pfizer - which manufactures vaccines in Puurs, Belgium - will be unable to ship supplies.
As many as 3.5million doses of their jab are expected to arrive over the next three weeks, reports the Telegraph, a shipment that wouldn't land on British soil if Brussels chose to redirect supplies.
The move would not, however, cut supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine because the 'vast, vast majority' of their jabs are made in the UK.
There are fears that any cut in deliveries could leave the Government unable to meet its target of vaccinating 15million of the most vulnerable by mid-February.
But it is not clear how many doses are already sitting in warehouses in the UK, which ministers say they won't reveal because of 'security concerns'.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a conference last night that supply remained the 'limiting factor' in Britain's Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
The UK has already vaccinated more than six million of the most vulnerable against the virus, as it steams towards its mid-February target.
For the first time the ONS has released data bringing together the deaths of care home residents in care homes and other settings since March 2020 up to the present.
The number of deaths involving Covid-19 in care home residents has been rising in recent weeks. A total of 1,719 deaths were registered in the week to January 15 – the highest figure since the week ending May 21 2020.
The Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, said the figures make 'grim reading' and demonstrate the need to avoid complacency.
Chairman Mike Padgham said: 'Yes, we now have vaccines, and the Government is to be congratulated on the speed at which it is protecting the vulnerable.
'But Covid-19 is not beaten yet and we must remain cautious and, on our guard, observing all the guidance and keeping everyone in care settings – care and nursing homes and those receiving care in their own homes – as safe as we can, alongside those who are caring for them.
'The news that carers are going to be supplied with lateral flow tests they can do at home is another positive step and will hopefully have an impact and help protect carers who are selflessly looking after others.'
Nuffield Trust Deputy Director of Research Sarah Scobie said that care homes are 'feeling the strain' and said it will take time for the vaccine rollout to affect figures.
She said: 'The number of registered deaths from Covid of care home residents has increased by 25 per cent since last week.
'The sector is again feeling the strain, and while the vaccine roll-out for the most vulnerable is continuing at impressive speed it will be a while until the benefits feed through to the figures.'
The ONS report today also found coronavirus accounted for four in 10 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending January 15 – the highest proportion recorded during the pandemic.
There were 7,245 deaths registered where the virus was mentioned on the death certificate in England and Wales, a 20 per cent rise from the previous week, when 6,057 deaths were registered.
It is also the third highest weekly number recorded during the pandemic and at 40.2 per cent, the week with the highest proportion of deaths involving Covid-19 recorded so far.
There have also been concerns the drive could be held up by supply of the vaccine, which has been described as 'lumpy' and could yet threaten to derail the plans.
Ministers have refused to reveal how much is already in the country, citing a security risk, but there have been reports of deliveries to centres being scaled down.
Confusion has also been sparked over whether supplies are being diverted to areas lagging behind in the rollout, with the vaccines minister denying this after Mr Hancock said the Government would be redirecting stocks last week.
And both Pfizer and AstraZeneca – suppliers of the only two vaccines being used in the UK – have faced disruption to their shipments as they have scaled up manufacturing.
It comes after EU leaders arranged an urgent meeting with AstraZeneca executives after the company unexpectedly slashed its supply of vaccines to the bloc.
The jab-makers have blamed the EU's supply chain for their failure to deliver the promised 80million vaccines by the end of March as part of a £300million deal.
AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, said on Friday they could only offer 31million vaccines in the first quarter, a cut of 60 per cent.
Furious EU officials said they will investigate their claims and have questioned why Britain is not suffering from similar delays in the rollout.
Peter Liese, an EU lawmaker from the same party as Angela Merkel, said: 'The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent.
'AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay.'
The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker had received an up-front payment of 336 million euros (£298million) from the EU when they struck a deal in August, an EU official told Reuters.
TOP TEN JOBS WITH THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF CORONAVIRUS DEATHS, ACCORDING TO THE ONS
Taxi drivers, home carers, security guards and lorry drivers were among the professions suffering the highest number of deaths from coronavirus, official data shows.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures reveal there were 8,000 deaths in people aged between 20 and 64 in England and Wales last year, one twelfth of the total.
And of the more than 5,000 for which a profession was registered, the ONS compiled the statistics to show which were recording the highest number of deaths after an individual tested positive for the virus.
In men, the highest number of Covid-19 deaths was in taxi and cab drivers, 209, followed by security guards, 140, and lorry drivers, 118. And in women the highest number of Covid-19 deaths was in care workers, 240, sales assistants, 111, and nurses, 110.
Taxi and cab drivers
Large goods vehicle drivers
Care workers/Home carers
Processing plant workers
Bus and coach drivers
Number of Covid-19 deaths
Care workers/Home carers
Other administrative jobs
Number of Covid-19 deaths