Minister of COVID-19 Vaccine in the United Kingdom, Nadhim Zahawi has said that the first vaccine doses of new mutant strains of coronavirus would go to care home staff, NHS workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
According to him, over-70s are set to get booster shots to protect against new mutant strains of coronavirus from September under the Government’s rollout plans.
Zahawi said eight jabs could be approved for use in the UK by the autumn, including one by Novavax that can fight several variants of the bug.
A number will reportedly be manufactured in the UK, which could ease the pressure on supplies amid tensions with the European Union as it faces shortages from AstraZeneca.
Speaking to the Telegraph Zahawi said: “The most likely date will be September.
“Jonathan Van-Tam (the deputy chief medical officer) thinks that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, (it) would be around September.”
Novavax will also be available for the autumn vaccination drive, he added.
It comes as ministers face pressure to maintain the speed of the rollout amid the spread of new coronavirus variants from overseas.
Officials met on Friday to consider expanding the travel “red list” of countries from where travellers are required to enter hotel quarantine on arrival to the UK, the Guardian reports.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The UK Government are yet again doing too little, too late to secure our borders against Covid – and it’s the British people that will pay the price.
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“Ministers need to do everything possible to stop new variants reaching the UK – and move to a comprehensive hotel quarantine system now.”
Meanwhile, European Union leaders have backed harsher vaccine shipment controls as the bloc struggles with its rollout but stopped short of imposing an export ban.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said AstraZeneca must “catch up” on deliveries to the EU before exporting doses elsewhere.
“The Prime Minister stressed that global access to vaccines will be key to defeating the pandemic,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) signed off moves that will increase the production capacity of Covid-19 vaccines.
The EU agency approved the Halix site in Leiden in the Netherlands for the manufacturing of AstraZeneca’s active vaccine substance, boosting the licensed sites to four.
And it backed a new site in the German city of Marburg, as well as more flexible storage conditions for the Pfizer jab.
But tensions between the bloc and the UK continue, with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accusing Britain of “blackmail” over its handling of exports.
“The United Kingdom has taken great pride in vaccinating well with the first dose except they have a problem with the second dose,” he told France Info radio.
His claims were dismissed by the UK Government, with a spokesperson saying: “We’re on track to meet our vaccination targets and everyone will get their second dose within 12 weeks of their first.”
Meanwhile, the Government was slammed by a senior Tory for failing BAME communities and young women uncertain about taking up the jab.
Caroline Nokes, the chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, said in a letter to Mr Zahawi that not tackling the issue could be “devastating” for vaccine hesitant groups as well as wider society.
England’s lockdown will be relaxed on Monday when the “stay home” order ends and groups of up to six people, or two households, are able to meet outside.
The Government announced that shops in England will be able to stay open until 10 pm six days a week when they unlock their doors for trade again from April 12.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it will allow them to reopen “safely”, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak encouraged people to “go have fun” by spending their savings.
In Wales, lockdown restrictions were being eased as the “stay local” requirement was dropped on Saturday and people being allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested there has been a flattening in the decline of coronavirus infections in England.
Oxford University’s Professor James Naismith said: “Today’s ONS data are less reassuring than last week; they serve as a caution but not yet evidence we need to change course.”