Britain will adapt its vaccine rollout to protect people more quickly in areas where a coronavirus variant first detected in India has emerged, the vaccine minister said on Friday.
The UK has delivered one of the fastest inoculation campaigns in the world, giving a first shot to almost 70% of the adult population and a second to 36%, helping to reduce infection rates and deaths.
As a result, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out what he describes as a “cautious but irreversible” route out of lockdown for England, with the next step planned for next week. He has warned, however, that new variants, such as the B.1.617.2 found in India, could derail that.
Government agency Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday that the total number of confirmed cases of the new variant had more than doubled in the past week to 1,313 across the United Kingdom.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said in areas where the new variant had emerged, the government would step up enhanced testing, whereby all residents of an area are asked to get a PCR test given that virus variants are circulating in the community, with authorities seeking to assess how widespread they are.
He said vaccines could also be offered to younger people if they live in multi-generational households. Shots are currently available to everyone over the age of 38.
In addition, the tweaked plan could narrow the gap between the time someone takes the first and second dose of the Pfizer shot.
“We will do whatever it takes in the vaccination programme…to deliver additional enhanced protection,” Zahawi told BBC TV.
The highly transmissible coronavirus variant first detected in India has now surfaced in countries around the world.
Zahawi said there were concerns about the presence of the variant in some parts of northern England and London but that there was no evidence that it had a more severe impact on people or was able to escape the vaccines.