Vaccine success: Half of UK now vaccinated – and new Pfizer deal about to be signed

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Ministers are on the verge of signing a major deal with Pfizer for more vaccines this autumn “to protect people over the winter and let us enjoy Christmas”. It comes as more than 20 scientists write an open letter to the government saying all restrictions, including masks and social distancing, must be ended on June 21, allowing the public “to take back control of their own lives”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that his cautious reopening strategy, coupled with the vaccine rollout, is aimed at guaranteeing that there will be no return to lockdown.

The latest vaccination figures, coupled with news of the extra doses, suggest the country is on track to achieve this aim.

A formal announcement on the new vaccine doses has been delayed but sources have confirmed that the deal is about to be signed with Pfizer.

A Whitehall source confirmed that the doses are “aimed to protect people over the winter and let us enjoy Christmas” after it was cancelled last winter

There had been some nervousness over the German-produced vaccines, which were in the first tranche used for the elderly this year, because of the EU threatening to block delivery after Brussels’ disastrous handling of the bloc’s vaccine rollout.

Figures yesterday showed that more than 33m people had received at least a first jab, meaning more than half of the entire population had been vaccinated.

A further 32 deaths and 2,061 new cases were reported on Saturday.

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “It is an astonishing achievement that half of the UK population has now had at least one Covid-19 jab.

“In under five months, frontline NHS staff in trusts and primary care and volunteers have done an incredible job giving out over 33 million first jabs and more than 11 million second doses.

“We owe each and every one of them our thanks.

“These measures are key to keeping Covid-19 infection rates under control and helping ensure this current lockdown is our last.”

Experts have said vaccines should be able to control the Covid-19 pandemic, with real-world UK data showing that jabs slash infection and are likely to cut transmission.

To encourage vaccine uptake the government has launched a new advertising campaign to persuade the under 50s to take the jab. It features a series of pictures of intimate moments across the UK, including in Salisbury Cathedral, the Royal Welsh Showground in mid-Wales and on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland, to underline the size and scale of Britain’s vaccine programme.

Pilot schemes are currently underway to allow larger-scale events, such as concerts and sports, to resume. Attendees have to sign consent forms and provide proof of a negative COVID test.

A nightclub pilot, with no mask or social distancing, will take place next Friday.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden hailed the success of the schemes as part of a “step closer to normality”.

He said: “Our ultimate aim is to work out how we can get crowds back safely as soon as possible, and get back to the way things were before Covid.

“Each and every pilot gets us closer to normal life. They show us how we can exit this thing safely – and leave Covid in the rearview mirror once and for all.”

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He said the pilots were being done “in the name of science so that we can secure the return of normal life in full”.

Meanwhile, work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said that the pieces are in place to make sure the country can return to its record levels of employment which it enjoyed before the start of the pandemic.

“We went into this pandemic last year with record-high employment. Since then, furlough has protected millions of jobs and we have boosted the welfare safety net like never before to help people through these tough times”, she said.

“After the millions of vaccines, now come the vacancies and visits to pub gardens. By safely supporting our locals and cautiously continuing our Roadmap to recovery, we are getting the country back on track and building back better.”

But despite the positive news, Boris Johnson’s government still faces pressure over his unlocking strategy

The use of covid certificates, or ‘vaccine passports’, to be allowed into theatres and major venues has proved controversial.

A Survation poll of 1,009 people found that while overall they were seen as fair, the young were more opposed.

Forty-six per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds were against the introduction of “covid-status certificates” as a requirement for entry to hospitality. Forty-one percent supported the idea and 13 per cent said they didn’t know.

Among 35 to 44-year-olds the split was divided almost evenly between supporters and opponents of the idea with 43 per cent against and 44 per cent in favour while 13 per cent did not know.

However, 65 percent of those over 65 were in favour of the idea with 25 per cent against it.

Rupert Lowe, former Brexit Party MEP and businessman who commissioned the poll said: “We have punished the young enough over the last year. Jobs destroyed, a mountain of debt to repay and now we want to lock them out of society against their wishes – those in the older generation who are so in favour should be ashamed.”

“Demanding proof of someone’s health status so they can visit the pub is a hideous idea. We are drifting into a Covid authoritarian state and it’s being cheered on by millions. Soon it will be too late to turn back, so make your voice heard now.”

Last night the national autism charity Thinking Autism issued a statement expressing its concern over the introduction of vaccine passports which it said could “further marginalize” people with autism many of whom suffer health problems, such as epilepsy and allergies, making vaccination risky.

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