More than half of the UK adult population have now received their first jab of the Covid vaccine.
A record 660,276 doses were administered in the UK on Friday – 528,260 first jabs and 132,016 second jabs. The previous high was 609,010, set on 30 January.
In a video posted on Twitter, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “I’m absolutely delighted to tell you that we have now vaccinated half of all adults in the UK. It’s a huge success and I want to say many, many thanks to all those involved, including the half of all adults who have come forward. The UK vaccination programme is a big success story. It’s down to the hard work of many, many people.”
Boris Johnson tweeted: “More than half the adult population of the UK have now received their first jab. Many thanks to everyone involved in this fantastic achievement. Let’s keep going!”
The latest government data up to Thursday 18 March showed 49.9% of the UK population aged 18 and over had received a first dose of the vaccine, with an estimated 73,000 more jabs needed to pass the halfway mark. Those figures are expected to be updated later on Saturday.
At least 26,263,732 people have received a first dose and 2,011,070 a second dose.
But there are warnings that new Covid variants could jeopardise the government’s response to the pandemic later in the year, as studies suggest vaccines could be less efficacious against them, particularly the South African variant.
Dr Mike Tildesley, an infectious diseases expert who is a member of the Spi-M modelling group that advises the government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What is really dangerous is if we jeopardise our vaccination campaign by having these variants where the vaccines don’t work as effectively spreading more rapidly.”
Prof Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that while another wave was “likely” in the UK, it could be less deadly than previous ones.
He told Times Radio: “I guess the difference is that another wave will cause substantially fewer deaths and hospitalisations, because of high levels of vaccination across the sorts of people who would have ended up in hospital or unfortunately dying if they haven’t been vaccinated. So the consequences of another wave are less. I think the challenge is of course we don’t know exactly how much less.”
On Friday the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said a delay in supply of about 5m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from India had given “cause for concern”. The BBC reported that the delay was expected to result in a reduction in the number of first doses given during April.
Just over 4,800 new cases of Covid were confirmed across the UK in the most recent daily figures, down from 6,303 on Thursday. There were 101 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK total to 126,026.