The vast majority of care home residents throughout England have been offered the Covid-19 vaccine, NHS England announced on Monday, as the government aims to hit its target of providing jabs to 15m vulnerable Britons by February 15.
The UK vaccination programme is showing early momentum, with a record 598,389 people receiving their first dose in the latest 24-hour period. A total of almost 9m have now had the initial jab.
NHS England said figures set to be published on Monday were expected to show that all eligible, older residents at more than 10,000 care homes have been offered the vaccine.
It added that in a “small number of cases” coronavirus outbreaks had prevented some planned vaccinations from taking place in care homes.
Public health officials would resume vaccination visits at the homes “once it is deemed safe” to do so, said NHS England.
Mr Johnson, who last month said he hoped to offer immunisation to all eligible care home residents by the end of January, hailed the NHS England announcement as a “crucial milestone” in the race to vaccinate the most vulnerable people.
He added that “vaccines are our route out of the pandemic and, having protected 8.9 million people with a first dose so far, our rollout programme will only accelerate from here on”.
The government’s progress with the vaccination programme comes after it was strongly criticised over some aspects of its handling of the crisis. Labour accused ministers of failing to lock down quickly enough and struggled to put in place an effective test and trace system, among other failings.
One of the greatest concerns has been how Covid-19 spread in care homes, causing 30,000 deaths during the first wave of infections last year. Patients were moved out of hospital and into care homes without testing them for the disease.
International trade secretary Liz Truss said on Sunday that the government was “absolutely confident” in its ability to hit the target of providing first doses of the vaccine to 15m people by mid-February. The 15m include older care home residents, frontline NHS workers, those aged over 70, and people deemed clinically vulnerable. She said the government was aiming to offer the vaccine to those aged over 50 by the spring, followed by all adults by the autumn.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said that over the past week, the NHS had vaccinated more than 2m people in England.
Matt Hancock told the BBC on Sunday that, while a “few tough months” lay ahead, he hoped that, by summer, the “vast majority of adults” would be vaccinated. “In six months we’ll be in the middle, I hope, of a happy and free Great British summer, the health secretary said. “I have a high degree of confidence that, by then, the vast majority of adults will have been vaccinated – and that’s not just the clinically vulnerable groups, but all groups.”