British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has hailed a “significant milestone” as data showed 15 million first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations had been delivered, fuelling calls for the government to start relaxing far-reaching lockdown measures.
Some 15 million people, or 22% of the UK population, have received their first shot or were offered one. The figure includes most people in the government’s top four priority groups, including everyone over 75, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff.
“15,000,000! Amazing team,″ Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said in a tweet that featured a red heart. “We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase1 the 1-9 categories of the most vulnerable & all over 50s by end April and then all adults.″
Johnson plans to unveil his roadmap for easing restrictions on Feb. 22 amid signs that infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen sharply since England’s third national lockdown began on Jan. 4.
Jockeying has already begun between those who want the measures lifted as soon as possible and those who fear moving too fast will lead to a resurgence of the virus.
Britain got a head start on its vaccination effort in December, when it became the first country to authorize widespread use of a COVID-19 shot. It ranks behind only Israel, 71%, the Seychelles, 53%, and the United Arab Emirates, 50% in the percentage of people who have received one dose, according to data compiled by Oxford University. The U.S. is fifth at 15%.
At the same time, rules that have closed schools, restaurants and nonessential shops in the UK are starting to pay off. The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths recorded over the past seven days have all dropped by more than 20% from the previous week, according to government figures.