There is no doubt that the UK’s vaccine roll-out is going great guns. But so much so that the word in Whitehall right now is that there’s a realistic prospect that Britain will have offered first doses of the vaccine to all adults as early as the start of May! Which, of course, would mean hospitality would open even earlier than currently billed. In other words, fancy a pint?
According to Sam Coates at Sky News, behind the scenes the government is very bullish about the roll-out and although the semi-official deadline for over 50s is July, there are some who now think a date in May could be a credible possibility for everyone! Of course even the most informed mandarin would caveat this prediction with plenty of ‘only ifs’, but the fact that the conversations are not only being had but shared with journalists is incredibly encouraging. And the implications for reopening the nation are huge.
The current timeline is that the first 4 priority groups, care home workers and residents, health workers, over 80s and over 70s will be all first-dosed-up by Monday 15th February. This is going incredibly well and is now looking like it may hit the target a couple of days early.
Fifteen million down, another forty five million to go…
And when you think about it in those terms, perhaps it’s not such a preposterous hope. It’s taken around a month and a half to vaccinate a quarter of those who need the jab, so at the same rate we should be done by June. Add in the fact that the roll-out has got progressively faster as new mass testing facilities come online, while time-consuming visits to individual care homes won’t be required going forward, meaning early May is a very credible date…
…Assuming that we have a similar level of up-take and that our supply remains steady and the vaccines are effective. There is also the matter of second doses to factor in.
On the uptake, generally this has been very positive with the vast majority are turning up for their injections. More work needs to be done, especially to reach certain demographics, but with world leaders like French President Macron jealously dissing the Oxford Vaccine last week, there may be increased scepticism among less at-risk younger people. However, perhaps this will be countered by the effect of the positive vaccine on the older generation, which should soon become apparent.
As we saw with the EU spat this weekend, there’s no guarantee that our supply of vaccines will remain stable. We rely on Belgium for our Pfizer-BioNtech jabs, and the EU could turn off the supply at any time, though they have now promised not to.
Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca/Oxford one is made here in the UK, but there’s no assurance that they couldn’t be hit by issues as they make the stuff. Luckily we have huge stockpiles, but the government is (rightly) keeping these numbers under wraps.
As to efficacy, we’re already seeing very positive news from Israel, which has now vaccinated approaching half its (much smaller) population. And the data is good. The vaccine (they have the Pfizer one only) is working. Scientists are positive about the AstraZeneca jab and claim to already be seeing its roll out taking effect on numbers, but ‘real world’ data should be available very soon that hopefully proves this.
And the roll out will presumably need to scale up even further as first dosers start to come back for their second doses after three months.
So what would it mean if we do manage the incredible feat of vaccinating the whole population in five months?
Normality. The government is reportedly planning for restaurants and hospitality to be reopen without onerous restrictions by July, which is based on their intent to have injected over 50s by then. But if that objective was reached by some point in March it would be very difficult to keep any restrictions in place. By the moment the entire population is fully jabbed up life should have returned to pre-2020 normality. If you can remember that.
Life as normal will also open up travel again. The government is looking seriously into vaccine passports, to prove immunity for travellers, and it’s likely that a global tourism industry would be desperate to get vaccinated British tourists to their destinations, which could mean some excellent deals, especially if other nations are lagging behind us on their roll-outs.
And it also means that we can share our excess doses with countries less fortunate than ourselves, which we absolutely should be doing and works very much in our favour diplomatically, because a global problem is a problem at home, and because it’s just the right thing to do.
But don’t expect Boris to make any claims about May just yet, he’s been stung too many times by his over optimism. Still, perhaps we can be a little more hopeful today and start planning for that pint…