The supply of coronavirus vaccines to the North West of England could be cut by a third next month so doses can be diverted to parts of the country further behind in their rollout to the over-80s.
NHS England figures reveal the North West had vaccinated the second-highest proportion of its over-80s, reaching two thirds of the group who are among those most at risk if they catch the virus. Only the North East is ahead of it and supplies are expected to be limited there, too.
And NHS sources say the region – which includes Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria – will see supplies cut in the first week of February, according to the Health Service Journal.
A senior member of the health service, who was not named, told the specialist news website: ‘It means that, having stepped up a lot of services, you’re then only using half that capability. I don’t think anyone’s complaining, but it’s going to be a significant step back just as capability has been ramped up.’
It comes amid reports ministers are redirecting supplies from areas steaming ahead in the rollout to those lagging behind – such as London and East Anglia – to ensure all priority groups are vaccinated quickly.
Confusion was sparked last week after No10 refused to deny Covid-19 jabs could be redistributed to even out a postcode lottery, despite the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi claiming none were being sent away from areas leading the drive.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously stated ministers will reroute stocks to areas where the fewest number of over-80s and other priority groups have received their first dose.
The Government is scrambling to vaccinate 15million people in the groups most vulnerable to the virus – including NHS staff, over-70s, care home residents and the vulnerable – before its deadline in mid-February.
But the latest vaccination figures show the scheme failed to hit its target of getting jabs into the arms of 400,000 Britons every 24 hours for the second day in a row, trailing behind at 279,757 doses.
Above are the proportion of over-80s vaccinated in all regions of England alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland up to January 21, the latest date for which data by age is available
NHS England vaccination figures show more than 60 per cent of over-80s in the North East and Yorkshire and the North West had been given their first dose by January 21, the latest date figures by age are available.
They were followed by the South West, Midlands and South East, where more than 55 per cent had been vaccinated.
ASTRAZENECA BOSS SAYS UK IS ON TARGET TO VACCINATE ALL OVER-50S BY MARCH
Britain is ‘comfortably’ on target to vaccinate all over-50s by March and ’30million people in weeks’, the boss of AstraZeneca has said.
Pascal Soriot backed the government’s decision to delay the second dose of the vaccine and predicted it would allow the inoculation of huge numbers in just weeks.
Mr Soriot also slammed an ’emotional’ European Union over a jabs war that saw Eurocrats accuse the UK of hijacking doses meant for the continent.
Mr Soriot told La Repubblica: ‘I have no doubt that the UK has made the right choice thus maximizing the number of people vaccinated, which will reach 28-30million by March.’
The figure is double the government’s current pledge to vaccinate the 15million most vulnerable by February 15 – and would enable the inoculation of almost everyone aged over 50.
He also told the Italian newspaper that the European Union has only itself to blame for its shambolic vaccine rollout.
He said the EU deal was struck so late AstraZeneca could only offer to make its ‘best efforts’ to meet supply targets, rather than a firm guarantee.
‘The reason why we said that is because Europe wanted to be supplied more or less at the same time as the UK, even though the contract was signed three months later. So we said ‘OK, we’re going to do our best, we’re going to try, but we cannot commit contractually because we are three months behind the UK’.
He added: ‘There are a lot of emotions running in this process right now, and I can understand it – people want the vaccine. I want the vaccine too, I want it today. But, at the end of the day, it’s a complicated process. We are getting there.’
The drive in London, however, lagged at the back at 48 per cent, and was 50.9 per cent in East Anglia.
And in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland vaccination schemes were even further behind with 44.6 per cent, 23.9 per cent and 13.1 per cent of over-80s receiving their jabs respectively.
The Department of Health told the HSJ it was making ‘targeted deliveries’ to areas where more people in priority groups were waiting for their first dose.
A spokesman said: ‘We are in close contact with all of our vaccine suppliers and remain on track to offer first vaccinations to the top four priority groups by mid-February.
‘As we’ve said, supply is the limiting factor and as the public would expect we’re prioritising those most at risk from this disease across the country. Our approach so far has ensured we’ve vaccinated more people than any country in Europe.’
An NHS North West spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The North West is being fully supplied with all the vaccinations needed to offer vaccination to everyone across the region aged 70 and above, as well as clinically extremely vulnerable patients, and health and social care staff.
‘Our job is to get them vaccinated by mid-February so targeted deliveries are being made to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the priority cohorts.’
The Prime Minister’s rollout was mired in confusion last week after No10 refused to rule out plans to transfer Covid-19 stocks to other regions.
Asked to comment on the reports, a spokesman said: ‘We will continue to ensure that all areas and regions of the UK receive the vaccine to ensure we can protect the most vulnerable in society.
‘I would point to what Matt Hancock said yesterday where he said we have got to make sure vaccination is fair across the UK and some parts of the country, including parts of the North East and Yorkshire, have gone fast early on.
‘He also said why we’re putting more vaccine into areas that haven’t made as much progress, so everyone in the top four groups can receive the offer of a vaccine by February 15.
‘We’ve always said that we will prioritise those first four cohorts, which is why we set the mid-February target. But it remains the case that areas of the UK will continue to receive doses of the vaccine.’
It came after Mr Zahawi denied the reports that morning, challenging a Labour MP who had said Yorkshire was being punished for reaching its most elderly residents fastest.
The vaccine rollout has had a mixed start to its ambitious aim of reaching a quarter of the country’s population, with a stellar performance at the end of last week giving way to a wobbly two days on Sunday and Monday.
England and Scotland gave out only 280,000 Covid vaccines on Monday, official figures show, meaning Britain missed its daily uptake target for the second day in a row.
Figures published by the Department of Health reveal there were 281,725 jabs administered across the UK yesterday – of which 279,757 were given to people receiving their first dose.
The UK needs to be vaccinating at least 400,000 people every day for the next three weeks to fulfil Number 10‘s lofty promise of immunising all 15million of the most vulnerable Brits by mid-February.
It comes after only 221,067 vaccines were administered on Sunday, down by more than half on the record high of 493,013 on Saturday.
However Britain remains ahead of all other countries in Europe in its vaccine drive and has one of the highest per-person rates in the world.
The figures came as Boris Johnson last night warned the European Union that he expected it to honour government contracts for coronavirus vaccines as a deepening diplomatic row saw senior Brussels figures accused the UK of stealing jabs destined for countries in the bloc.
The UK and the EU were in a tense stand-off as continental figures attempted to shift blame for its slovenly rollout of the inoculations in comparison to Britain.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen vowed to make firms declare what vaccines they are exporting to the UK as she scrambled to contain the backlash.
The commission president said a ‘transparency mechanism’ is being introduced as she insisted that the bloc ‘means business’ about getting its fair share of supplies.
And in a sign of Brussels’ desperation an unnamed source told the Telegraph there were suspicions that AstraZeneca jabs earmarked ‘to be delivered to the EU after market authorisation have actually ended up in Britain.’
But fronting a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said he had ‘total confidence’ in the UK’s supply of vaccines.
And in a warning shot at the EU he added: ‘All I would say is obviously we expect and hope that our EU friends will honour all contracts.
‘And we continue to work with friends and partners in the EU, and indeed around the world, because the delivery of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, the creation of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, and the delivery of the vaccine is multinational as well, because the virus knows no borders,’ he said.