Supply shortages of the Pfizer vaccine have forced the NHS to slow down its Covid jab rollout, despite the government delaying “Freedom Day” by four weeks in order to accelerate the vaccination programme.
Just 1.2 million first doses were dispensed in the last week, compared with more than three million a week in March. The slowing vaccination rate means the UK now lags behind Germany, France and Italy.
The vaccination programme is moving more slowly in younger groups, who are largely reliant on the Pfizer vaccine after the government decided to restrict AstraZeneca to over-40s due to rare blood clot risks.
On Monday, Boris Johnson announced that the government’s roadmap to easing all lockdown restrictions is delayed another four weeks, from June 21 to July 19. The main reason cited for the delay was to give the NHS enough time to vaccinate as much of the population as possible.
But on Tuesday, NHS England chief Simon Stevens told the NHS annual conference that “supply continues to be constrained”, adding that the jab rollout can only move as quickly as supplies allow.
Supplies of the Pfizer jab have been cut in virus hotspots where Covid cases are rising among younger people, The Telegraph first reported. Leaders in some of the UK’s virus hotspots have warned that the July 19 reopening deadline could be in jeopardy already, unless they are supplied with more vaccines.
Health officials in London have requested 367,000 extra Pfizer and Moderna doses, to address the city’s low take-up of the vaccine: the lowest of any region in the UK.
London mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted on Tuesday: “I’m calling on the Government to allocate more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to the capital so our younger age groups can get their first doses sooner rather than later.”
“Until more young Londoners are vaccinated, we won’t be able to beat this virus and fully reopen our city,” he added.
Around 68.6 per cent of Londoners have had their first vaccine, compared with the 79.2 per cent national average.
News of the slowing rollout comes after the UK’s vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Friday that supplies of the Pfizer vaccine would be “tight” over the coming weeks.