Boris Johnson's vaccine strategy was mired in confusion today amid claims that supplies to areas that have been the quickest to inoculate the most vulnerable will be diverted to slower areas to allow them to catch up.
Britain's Covid vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi this morning denied reports that jabs are being diverted from the fasted parts of the North to areas lagging behind in the over-80s rollout, in order to even out a postcode lottery.
It came after a Labour MP that the region was being punished for reaching the most elderly Britons so far.
But this afternoon No 10 refused to deny that supplies could be redistributed. Asked to rule out cutting supplies to the best-performing area the Prime Minister's official spokesman would only say that the system had to be 'fair across the UK'.
Britain's coronavirus vaccine rollout hit the rate of 250 jabs a minute on Wednesday, with a record 360,000 jabs dished out in 24 hours. If the NHS drive can continue at the same speed, the UK will achieve its target of inoculating 13.9million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February.
Yorkshire and the North East are leading the race after getting first doses to 64 per cent of over-80s, followed by the North West at 60 per cent and South West at 57 per cent.
The Health Service Journal reported that ministers would divert vaccine supplies from areas leading the race to regions lagging behind.
The publication reported that GPs in both the North East and Yorkshire would only receive half of their usual vaccine supply - around 100,000 instead of 200,000.
Asked to comment on the report today, the No10 spokesman said: 'We will continue to ensure that all areas and regions of the UK receive the vaccine to ensure we can protect the most vulnerable in society.
'I would point to what Matt Hancock said yesterday where he said we have got to make sure vaccination is fair across the UK and some parts of the country, including parts of the North East and Yorkshire, have gone fast early on.
'He also said why we're putting more vaccine into areas that haven't made as much progress, so everyone in the top four groups can receive the offer of a vaccine by February 15.
'We've always said that we will prioritise those first four cohorts, which is why we set the mid-February target.
'But it remains the case that areas of the UK will continue to receive doses of the vaccine.'
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi (left) blasted claims supplies were being diverted after Jon Trickett (right), Labour's MP for Hemsworth, West Yorkshire, accused Number 10 of 'punishing' Yorkshire for its rapid vaccination drive.
Jonathan Van-Tam's mother gets Covid jab
The 79-year-old mother of England's deputy chief medical officer has had her coronavirus vaccination.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has previously spoken about encouraging his mother, Elizabeth Van-Tam, to be ready to receive the vaccine when she got the call.
Prof Van-Tam, who said his mother calls him 'Jonny', said he had told her it was 'really important' to get the jab 'because you are so at risk'.
She had her vaccination on Thursday at a GP surgery in Whittlesey, six miles east of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.
Ms Van-Tam, who turned 79 this month, said afterwards: 'I was really happy to get my Covid-19 vaccine.
'While I've had lots of reminders from Jonathan, I needed no encouragement when I received my phone call.
'The jab didn't hurt at all and the NHS staff were excellent.
'I would encourage everyone to take up the offer when it comes.'
Ms Van-Tam pictured getting her vaccine
'Yorkshire's allocation this week is 13 per cent,' he tweeted. 'Next week it is 13 per cent.
'We have less vaccine because supply remains a challenge. Yorkshire as I said to local BBC tonight will get its allocation to be able to meet the target of offering the most vulnerable by mid-February.'
He issued the stark rebuttal after Jon Trickett, Labour's MP for Hemsworth, West Yorkshire, accused Number 10 of 'punishing' Yorkshire for its rapid vaccination drive.
'Why do we have to be held back? I don't get it,' Mr Trickett told the Yorkshire Post.
'Once again, the North has excelled and once again the North is being punished for problems in the South.'
It came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock this week admitted supplies of the only two approved jabs were being prioritised to areas lagging behind in the roll-out.
Mr Trickett added: 'I don't believe we're that far ahead. There are patches within Yorkshire that will have fallen behind and this will mean they fall even further behind.'
Official figures reveal that across England 56 per cent of all over-80s have received their first does of the coronavirus vaccine.
But London is lagging behind with 48 per cent - or 150,000 - of its elderly residents vaccinated, alongside the East of England at 51 per cent and the South East at 55 per cent.
England has steamed ahead of Northern Ireland - where 44 per cent of over-80s have got their first dose, Wales, at 24 per cent, and Scotland trailing at 13 per cent.
Mr Hancock said this week that vaccine supplies would be diverted to areas struggling to keep pace with the operation.
Stocks are thought to have initially been distributed by GP networks, rather than the number of people.
This means that surgeries with fewer patients have been able to vaccinate a higher proportion while those with more - typically in London - have got fewer jabs per patient.
Revealing Britain's postcode lottery, official figures showed medics in Cumbria and the North East have handed out 10 times more vaccines than those in Shropshire, the figures show.
And an impressive 10 per cent of the population in Gloucestershire have had a jab already, compared to just 3.6 per cent of East Londoners. Herefordshire and Worcestershire also managed to immunise one in 10 of their residents by January 17.
The 10 areas most advanced in their rollout have managed to immunise 71 per cent of their over-80s already, with Gloucestershire the highest at 85 per cent. For comparison, the worst-performing areas, mostly in London, had managed fewer than half by January 17.
Rural areas tend to have higher average ages among their residents and more elderly people, which may give them access to more vaccine doses to distribute, while inner cities will have to wait until younger people become eligible.
Boris Johnson has warned achieving the February target will be 'very hard' but it has emerged today that No10 is only aiming to 'offer' the jabs to that number of people and it won't declare failure if they aren't all delivered on time.
Government sources admit not everyone will take up the invitation, with polls indicating that a fifth of the population might refuse.
It comes after experts said yesterday the UK would not achieve herd immunity because it wouldn't be able to vaccinate 82 per cent of its population - the threshold they said was required to stop the disease from spreading.
The scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) said vaccine hesitancy and the decision not to offer jabs to under-18s would only bring the UK's R value - the rate at which the virus spreads - to 1.3, meaning the virus would continue to spread.
They found only if everyone received Pfizer's jab could herd immunity be achieved - which studies suggest is more effective than Oxford's - but only if teenagers were also inoculated. The jab is currently only approved for over-16s.
Scientists have always known eradicating Covid was an impossible task and the goal of the vaccine programme is not to prevent all transmission from occurring.
Professor Matt Keeling, an epidemiologist from the University of Warwick, said: 'If we've given people their first dose by February 15, that's not going to give that much protection.' He warned the most 'optimistic' outcome would be for 'some' restrictions to be lifted in May.
Dr Marc Baguelin, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London who was also involved in the modelling, claimed that easing lockdown before then would cause a spike 'that is really bad'.