Britain met its Covid vaccination target five days earlier, with two-thirds of adults now having had both doses.
Government data shows that 35.16 million people over the age of 18 (66.7 percent) have been fully vaccinated. About 46.04 million (87.4 percent) have had their first shot.
Boris Johnson called the milestone – which ministers wanted to achieve with ‘Freedom Day’ – as ‘extraordinary’ and praised ordinary Britons for their confidence in the vaccines.
The Prime Minister said: ‘Thank you again to everyone who has come forward and to those who help others get stung. You are the reason we can gently ease restrictions next week and return closer to normal life.”
Newly appointed Health Minister Sajid Javid announced the achievement of the target early on as a “huge achievement” for the vaccine rollout.
Ministers had aimed for two doses to at least two in three adults by July 19, when most of the remaining restrictions in England will be eased.
Everyone over the age of 18 has already been given the opportunity to be vaccinated.
No10’s top advisers are mulling over halving the gap between shots to four weeks amid growing concerns that the country may finally have reached ‘maximum take-up’.
The gap between doses has already been reduced to eight weeks, and scientists fear a further reduction could lead to people developing substandard immunity to the shots compared to those who waited longer.
Figures from NHS England show a further 124,905 second doses have been distributed, bringing the total number of Britons to 35.1 million or 66.6 per cent. Health leaders will publish updated figures later today that will also include vaccinations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) praised the milestone as “extraordinary” and said it was thanks to millions of Britons showing up for vaccines that restrictions could be “gently lifted” on July 19. Health Minister Sajid Javid (pictured on arrival in Downing Street today) said it was a ‘huge achievement’
Vaccines and masks are the best ways to protect ourselves on Freedom Day, says scientist behind AstraZeneca Covid vaccine
Vaccines and masks are the best way to protect ourselves after ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday, claimed one of the scientists behind Oxford University’s Covid vaccine today.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the brains behind the AstraZeneca jab, said wearing a covering in crowded indoor environments was “a sign of respect.”
She admitted masks do little to protect the wearer, but claimed they can prevent some people from passing the virus on to others.
Dame Sarah said she will follow Professor Chris Whitty’s advice to continue wearing masks next week when no longer required by law.
Her comments come amid fears that mask-wearing etiquette could lead to a culture war after “Free Day” Monday.
Ministers and scientific advisers are still encouraging people to put on a mask in crowded areas where the risk of Covid is higher – such as on trains or busy shops.
Adding to the confusion, London Mayor Sadiq Khan revealed this morning that face coverings will still be mandatory on the metro, buses and taxis in the capital.
Dame Sarah told Good Morning Britain: ‘None of the protective measures are fully effective on their own and we get the best protection when we combine different ways of protecting ourselves.
“So if we let everyone who is eligible for the vaccine get the vaccine, if we wear a face mask indoors in crowded areas.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Barely eight months since the first vaccine was given, this is another extraordinary achievement.
“Now let’s finish the job. If you’re over 18, book both your jabs today.’
Mr Javid said: ‘The vaccination program is building a strong wall of protection around our population, saving tens of thousands of lives, preventing millions of infections and enabling us to move carefully through the roadmap.
“Everyone has a role to play in overcoming this virus, so please come forward for your jab if you haven’t already — it’s the best way to protect you, your loved ones and your community.”
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI) — which advises No. 10 on the rollout — claimed today there would be no ‘gains’ to close the gap.
He said data shows that a four-week interval produces a much lower immune response, meaning that people who get the shots after a shorter period of time get less protection against the virus.
Other JCVI advisers have also called on No10 not to change course in its fight against the third wave, echoing Professor Harnden’s concerns.
Professor Harnden told Times Radio: ‘We’ve been looking at this data very carefully over the past few days and it’s quite clear that from the AstraZeneca vaccine there is absolutely no doubt that the longer interval gives you much better protection.
“But we focused on the Pfizer vaccine, because that’s obviously a vaccine that’s being given to younger people right now.
“And it’s pretty clear from research on antibody T cells that you get a much lower response, and a poorer quality memory response, with the shorter interval — that’s a four-week interval compared to an eight to 12-week interval.” .
“And the actual vaccine effectiveness studies with real data show that there is a lower vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease with shorter intervals compared to longer intervals.”
He added: ‘Then we had the modellers look at this and actually the number of infections will increase if we lower the dose.
“We just think there’s no good short-term or long-term gain by shortening the interval.”
Scientists say that spreading out doses leads to a better preparation of the immune system to fight the virus.
Originally, both AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s vaccines were approved to be distributed at three-week intervals because that was the gap tested in the research trials.
But No10’s scientists pushed the regimen back to 12 weeks to gain wider protection over the winter, when the second wave began to lift.
They said the decision would allow more people to gain some immunity to the disease in the shortest possible time.
Two weeks ago, the JCVI recommended reducing the gap to eight weeks for everyone, in an effort to protect more people.
Health leaders already fear the UK will be close to maximum vaccine uptake, with young people eligible for appointments for nearly a month.
The rollout has resulted in fewer than 100,000 first doses per day, with the UK currently aiming to ensure millions are fully vaccinated.
Young people – the last group to be vaccinated – are less likely to get the shot than others because they don’t see themselves as threatened by the virus.
However, ministers hope that a double jab requirement for holidays and avoiding self-isolation will boost acceptance.
Professor Harnden said the use of injections could increase among younger age groups if vaccines are more accessible and supported by role models.
He added that the JCVI is “concerned” about the uptake of first doses among younger age groups.
Asked if the England team could be part of an advertising campaign, he said: “I think it would be a brilliant idea – the England team has captured the attention of the whole country for the past four weeks.
“And many of them, the young role models — I’d love it if they could contribute in some way to encouraging young, especially young men, to get vaccinated.”
The JCVI has been asked to provide urgent advice on the pros and cons of narrowing the gap between doses, the Sunday Times claimed. An announcement is expected in a few days.
Experts fear that young people will only be partially protected longer during a second wave, which would increase the chance of ‘long-term Covid’.
Evidence from Public Health England shows that injecting reduces the risk of infection by 55 to 70 percent after one dose, but increases to 65 to 90 percent after two doses.