- Second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to be offered earlier to most vulnerable to help protect against variants
- Strengthened surge testing, genome sequencing and improved contact tracing measures deployed in the Northwest to control the spread
- Military providing planning and logistical support
The country’s most vulnerable must be offered their second COVID-19 vaccine sooner, the government said, as part of plans to tackle the rise in worrisome B1.617.2 cases first identified in India .
Appointments for a second dose of a vaccine will be postponed from 12 to 8 weeks for those remaining in the first 9 priority groups who have not yet received their second dose. This is to ensure that people across the UK get the strongest possible protection against the virus at an earlier opportunity.
The move follows updated advice from independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), which reviewed the latest available evidence on the variant and recommended reducing the dosing interval to help protect the country of the variant.
People should continue to attend their second dose appointments and no one needs to contact the NHS. The NHS will notify those who are expected to advance their appointments when they are able to do so. People under the age of 50 will continue to receive their first dose, with their second dose at 12 weeks, as has been the rollout strategy so far.
Health and Social Affairs Secretary Matt Hancock said:
It is essential that we do all we can and use all the resources at our disposal to ensure that we continue to keep the country safe. We have implemented measures at a record pace to master this new variant and control the spread.
Everyone has a role to play in this effort – accept the invitation to get a kick out when it happens, and if you live in one of the areas where we’ve introduced surge testing, get your free PCR test. Let’s work together to fight this.
This decision will be supported by new targeted activity to accelerate vaccine uptake among eligible cohorts in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.
At Bolton, this includes:
- increase in vaccine delivery through the 3 existing local vaccination sites and the existing vaccine bus
- establish an additional vaccine bus that will also target walk-in appointments
- NHS professionals supporting the rapid deployment of additional manpower, with St John’s Ambulance providing volunteers on a roving basis to target local businesses to reach those who cannot be absent
- expand pop-up sites, including at a community wedding venue
- expand community engagement plans with supportive communications and direct engagement with local communities
In Blackburn with Darwen, this includes:
- extended hours of operation of the Burnley vaccination center
- expanding the capacity of the Blackburn Crypt vaccination center, with plans underway to take the Pfizer vaccine
- increase in the supply of community pharmacies
- develop a proactive communication campaign involving local communities
- develop additional pop-up sites as needed
While there is no evidence to show that this variant has a greater impact on the severity of the disease or escapes the vaccine, the rate of growth is noteworthy and the government is working quickly to ensure that the measures appropriate are taken.
The latest data on the B1.617.2 variant, released by PHE last night, shows the number of cases across the UK rose from 520 last week to 1,313 cases this week. Most cases are in the North West of England, some in London.
COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said:
Our vaccines prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 and there is early evidence to show that the vaccine also prevents serious illnesses of the circulating variants.
This move is a belt-and-suspender approach to ensure as many people as possible the all-round protection that a vaccine has to offer – be sure to reserve your jab when contacted.
In partnership with local authorities, strengthening local operations within BL3 postcodes in Bolton and other parts of England is helping to control the spread of COVID-19 variants. Genomic sequencing and enhanced contact tracing are being rolled out across the Northwest, with additional surge testing in places where variants of concern have been identified to quickly break chains of transmission.
Currently, postcodes in Bolton, Sefton (Formby), Blackburn with Darwen and Lancashire have implemented additional surge testing for residents to contain cases of the B1.617.2 variant. Testing will be stepped up this weekend in these areas to meet local needs, which will include additional mobile test units, door-to-door testing and additional PCR test kits for community testing sites.
In Bolton, a new Surge rapid response team of 100 was on site all week. This team supports local authorities through door-to-door testing and encourages residents to take a PCR test. The military, led by Colonel Russell Miller, is supporting the efforts from a planning and logistical perspective.
Funding of £ 2million has also been agreed for a pilot project in the Greater Manchester area, testing ways to encourage people to comply with self-isolation rules if they test positive. The pilot project will include “support and engagement teams” who will work with households within 24 hours of a positive test to develop a personalized plan for their self-isolation.
This could include practical and emotional support for anyone who needs it, including children and vulnerable adults, or other accommodation if needed. There will also be enhanced and targeted support and engagement for cultural communities. The pilot project is expected to reach 13,000 people in 12 weeks.
Additional measures will be implemented in areas where clusters of cases have been detected to stop the spread. These include:
- improved testing and contact tracing, including improved community and surge testing in areas defined by local authorities and regional teams
- increased genome sequencing of positive cases
- increased community engagement, including ensuring that messages are accessible in languages used by communities
- work closely with communities and community leaders to ensure individuals are supported to test and self-isolate
- encourage adoption for age and risk groups currently priority for immunization
The Department of Health and Welfare has also confirmed that surge tests are being rolled out in Hackney where cases of the variant have been detected.
The government and its scientific experts are closely monitoring developments and variation rates and will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.
The government continues to work closely with pharmaceutical companies to develop new vaccines specifically for the different variants.
Latest data on variant of concern B1.617.2