LONDON – The U.K. announced Sunday that it had reached its goal of giving at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to the most vulnerable people in the country, increasing pressure on ministers to clarify when they will ease a lockdown imposed in early January.
More than 15 million people, or 22% of the U.K. population, have received their first shot. The figure includes most people in the government’s top four priority groups, including everyone over 75, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents. Over 537,000 of them have also received their second dose.
“15,000,000! Amazing team,'' Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said in a tweet that featured a red heart and three syringes. “We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase1 the 1-9 categories of the most vulnerable & all over 50s by end April and then all adults.''
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to unveil his roadmap for easing restrictions on Feb. 22 amid signs that infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen sharply since England’s third national lockdown began on Jan. 4.
“This country has achieved an extraordinary feat — administering a total of 15 million jabs into the arms of some of the most vulnerable people in the country,'' Johnson said in a tweet.
Johnson said in England, everyone in the four top priority groups had been offered the vaccine. He plans to release further details on the vaccination effort on Monday.
Jockeying has already begun between those who want the measures lifted as soon as possible and those who fear moving too fast will lead to a resurgence of the virus.
Britain got a head start on its vaccination effort in December, when it became the first country to authorize widespread use of a COVID-19 shot. It ranks behind only Israel, 73%, the Seychelles, 53%, and the United Arab Emirates, 51% in the percentage of people who have received one dose, according to Oxford University. The U.S. is fifth at 15%.