NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has signalled that the UK could begin to see a return to normality by the summer if plans to ramp up the nation’s vaccination programme go to plan.
Teachers and police could be fast-tracked for the Covid vaccine as early as mid-February, the NHS boss said. Ministers have set a target of mid-February to vaccinate the 14.9 most-vulnerable members of the population.
Giving evidence to the Commons health and science committee, Stevens said health officials were increasingly hopeful that “the second half of the year and beyond” would see coronavirus become a more treatable disease.
“I think it is possible that over the course of the next six to 18 months coronavirus also becomes a much more treatable disease with antivirals and other therapies, which alongside the vaccination programme, holds out the hope of a return to a much more normal future,” he added.
It comes after the Prime Minister sparked confusion yesterday after he suggested England may potentially see some restrictions lifted in just three weeks’ time.
A Number 10 spokesperson later clarified that the PM meant ministers would begin discussions mid-February about lifting restrictions.
Boris Johnson vowed last week to see a return to the “Great British summer” in 2021.
However, concerns about a new coronavirus variation first identified in Kent have ripped up travel corridors, with many countries expected to limit travel to the UK for some time.
The NHS chief insisted Britain would begin to see some signs of normality in the next few months, but that vaccine supply remained the “rate-limiting factor” in the UK’s vaccination programme.
Health secretary Matt Hancock yesterday admitted that supply was “tight”, but insisted that Britain remains “on track” to hit its vaccination targets.
He said more than one in nine of the UK’s adult population had now received a jab, including 78.7 per cent of all over-80s.
Hancock added that he was “delighted” that “there’s so much enthusiasm for vaccination” amongst the eldest members of the public.
“Octagenarians know what scientists know, which is that the vaccine saves lives,” he added.
But scientists have warned that vaccine uptake remains low in minority ethnic groups.
The government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) has warned of a “significant risk” that vaccine uptake for Covid-19 will likely be lower among BAME communities, and called for barriers to uptake in these communities to be “understood and addressed”.
A Sage report released last week showed vaccine hesitancy remains highest in Black or Black British groups, with 72 per cent stating they were unlikely or very unlikely to get the jab.
City A.M. revealed yesterday that the NHS has now dropped the term “mass vaccination centre” over concerns it could stoke fear-mongering among the public.
NHS England will instead describe its 50 major vaccine hubs as “NHS vaccine centres”.
A spokesperson for NHS England said the shift was to avoid members of the public being deterred from getting vaccinated. They added that negative connotations associated with the term might include the prospect of encountering large crowds at vaccine sites.