Storm over early jabs for the young

Storm over early jabs for the young: No 10 says younger people should not jump the queue for Covid vaccine in Indian strain hotspots… as teenagers as young as 17 receive their Covid jabs in Bolton

  • Youngsters shouldn’t be vaccinated sooner in Covid hotspot, govt. said  
  •  In Bolton, teenagers were inoculated in an effort to contain the B1617.2 strain
  • In London, Sadiq Khan has called for ‘flexibility’ to give jabs to younger people 

Youngsters should not be vaccinated sooner in Covid hotspots to curb the spread of the Indian variant, Downing Street said today.

Health officials were urged to continue making their way down the national priority list – which has now reached those aged 36.

In Bolton, teenagers have been inoculated in a frantic effort to contain the B1617.2 strain. In London, mayor Sadiq Khan has called for ‘flexibility’ to give jabs to younger people in parts of the city linked to the variant, while former PM Tony Blair has said it would be ‘sensible’ to focus on vaccinating the worst-hit areas.

Gavin Carr. A teenager who lives in the UK’s Indian variant hotspot and has received his first jab has said it was an ‘obvious choice’ to get the vaccine as it ‘saves lives’

Members of the public queue to receive a Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre at the Essa academy in Bolton, northwest England on May 17

Join the queue: Residents in Bolton wait in line for a coronavirus jab at a temporary vaccination centre yesterday

However, opinion remains divided over the issue. No 10 insisted yesterday that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) believes the best way to protect against the new variant is to ensure vulnerable groups get their doses as soon as possible.

Asked whether Covid hotspots would be prevented from giving first doses to younger people, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘We want every part of the country to abide by the advice set out by the JCVI. It’s this unified approach that has allowed us to proceed so quickly with our vaccine rollout.’

The Health Secretary told the Commons that the JCVI priority list is ‘what is most likely to save the most lives’.

Phone call: Kate spoke with Hayley Evans 

Hayley Evans is pictured above 

Hayley pictured with her grandparents Ron and Pat Wood

When asked about vaccinating all over-18s in Bolton and Blackburn, Matt Hancock said to MPs: ‘I want to be absolutely crystal clear… that is not our approach. I have looked into it in great detail and we have taken clinical advice. 

The approach is to make sure we get as many second vaccinations done as possible, as many first vaccinations amongst the vulnerable groups, and then as many vaccinations as possible for those eligible groups who are under the age of 50.

‘The reason that we’ve taken this approach is because that is what is most likely to save the most lives. That second jab is absolutely vital and, of course, the first jab for anybody over 50 could be the difference between life and death.’

Memories: Couple’s 1949 wedding

Ron playing for Worthing

Holding hands: Hayley Evans’s photo

…But Bolton does it anyway 

All adults in Bolton were yesterday urged to book a vaccination, with doctors saying they would ‘find a reason’ to given them a jab.

The town is suffering worse than anywhere else in Britain with the Indian variant of Covid – with infection rates at 12 times the national average.

And despite calls from ministers not to invite healthy people aged under 36 for their jab, local medics are now vaccinating teenagers as young as 17.

They inoculated more 6,000 people over the weekend with some recipients reporting that they only needed to give their name, their phone number and which GP they were registered with.

Asked if her staff would turn away someone who turned up at a walk-in vaccination centre and didn’t meet the NHS eligibility criteria, Dr Helen Wall, who is co-ordinating the town’s vaccination programme, said they were ‘going to find reasons to vaccinate people, not reasons not to’.

Similarly in neighbouring Blackburn –which has the third highest rate in the country and where an extra 1,000 daily jabs have been allocated – residents have been told that even going shopping for a grandparent constitutes being an unpaid carer – and therefore eligible for a jab. Dr Dominic Harrison, director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen, said he was ‘urging anyone over 18 to book an appointment’ and then discuss on arrival whether they met one of the eligibility criteria. A ‘very, very, very large percentage’ would be cleared to have a vaccine.

The massive effort to boost immunity comes amid surging case rates, particularly among under-30s, in the areas. Cases are fuelled by the more transmissible Indian variant – and have sparked fears of a return to local lockdowns, to the horror of local businesses.

Bolton’s infection rate is twice that in the next worst Covid hotspot, Bedford, with rates doubling in a week to 282 per 100,000 people over the past seven days. In addition to stepping up vaccinations, surge testing is being carried out to monitor what officials describe as the ‘exponential’ spread of the Indian variant.


Mr Hancock said there were now 2,323 confirmed cases of the Indian variant in the UK – with the total having doubled in a week. 

Some 483 were in Bolton, Blackburn and nearby Darwen, but 86 local authorities have now reported five or more cases.

Bolton has seen 19 people hospitalised with B1617.2, while Blackburn has eight patients with the strain. 

NHS data suggests the variant has not had a damaging effect on older residents, who are more likely to be vaccinated.

Professor Adam Finn of the JCVI said he understood calls to inoculate younger age groups, but stressed there were still uncertainties over how well the vaccines interrupt transmission. 

Furthermore, given the lag between receiving a first dose and when its protection kicks in, he warned that changes made now would make little difference in the next fortnight.

‘We do need to think strategically about what we do… over the next two weeks right around the country, in order to minimise the chances of this new variant causing a very major third wave,’ he told Sky News.

Government adviser Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, or Nervtag, said we should vaccinate people as ‘fast as possible’, including under-18s. 

He told the BBC that if supply was limited, it should not be taken away from more vulnerable people, but added: ‘In Bolton, it looks like the cases are growing, particularly in those under the age of 45 – in other words, those who have not been vaccinated.

‘It does look like we need to roll out the vaccines as fast as possible, and to extend down into the younger age groups who are being infected by this new variant, even those under the age of 18 and in the age range of people still at school.’

No 10 said the vaccine supply ‘remains limited, as it has throughout this process’, but added: ‘There are no specific supply issues.’

Of the 56,992,075 jabs given in the UK as of Sunday, 36,704,672 were first doses – a rise of 131,318 on the previous day. 

There were 20,287,403 second doses, up by 183,745.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab could be between 10 and 15 per cent less effective against the new strain, it was reported last night.

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston claimed preliminary data from Oxford researchers showed the jab did not combat the Indian variant as well as Pfizer’s or Moderna’s.

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