Boris Johnson press conference: PM to address nation tonight amid fears for lockdown delay
Laura Kuenssberg grills Matt Hancock over NHS vaccine letter
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A press conference with the Prime Minister was scheduled after fears a drop in supply of Covid vaccines could delay the roadmap out of lockdown and following concerns over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Government last held a briefing yesterday when Matt Hancock said he had “fantastic news” and praised the success of the immunisation programme.
However, just minutes before last night’s press conference a letter sent to local NHS leaders leaked, warning of a dramatic drop in vaccine supply.
The letter told vaccination centres to “ensure no further appointments are uploaded” to booking systems in April.
They added younger Brits should only get the jab if they are in a priority group and all focus must be on giving vaccines to those over-50.
Confronted with the letter last night, Mr Hancock sought to dismiss concerns over supply, saying: “Supply is always lumpy and we are on course to deliver the offer that everybody who is aged 50 and above will be able to get vaccinated by the 15th of April. I recommit to that today.
“And, of course, these supply schedules have moved up and down throughout this whole rollout.
“It’s absolutely par for the course and that’s a normal operation letter.
“We are committed to all adults being able to get the jab by the end of July and we are on track to deliver on that commitment.”
Mr Johnson seek to promote the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine after multiple EU countries suspended its use this week due to a small number of blood clots in those who had the jab.
The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation have both said the jab is safe to use and Mr Johnson has booked an appointment to get his injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine later this week.
He is also expected to try and reassure the public the timetable for the roadmap out of lockdown will not be delayed, when he holds the televised briefing at 5pm tonight.
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The continued success of the rollout of the vaccination programme is one of the four tests minister have set for sticking to the original timetable.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said while it was not yet known why the delay had occurred, the “ripple effects could last for months”.
“It will undoubtedly make the meeting of the target dates for lifting restrictions more difficult than they otherwise would have been,” he said.
“By pushing back the under-50s first doses, their second doses are also being pushed back.
“If full vaccination becomes required for holidays abroad or even more mundane things like going to the cinema, millions of younger people may end up being excluded from participating for the whole summer.”
A four stage plan for the unlocking England has been laid out by ministers, with pub gardens and non-essential retail set to re-open on April 12, indoor hospitality on May 17 and most other restrictions lifted on June 21.
This morning Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has said there is “no reason to believe” the roadmap to easing the lockdown will be delayed.
He told Sky News: “There’s no reason to believe the road map is affected by this temporary shortage in supply.
“There’s no concern that we are off course on the road map.”
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