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Britain has hit "a hugely significant milestone" and offered Covid jabs to everyone over the age of 50, Boris Johnson has announced, as a third vaccine is deployed to boost rollout in younger groups.
On Tuesday, the Moderna jab will start being administered at 20 sites across England, along with those by Pfizer and AstraZeneca, as part of efforts to offer a first jab to all adults by July. Vaccine bookings will open online for those aged 45 to 49, with text message invitations targeting people at the upper end of that range.
Mr Johnson announced that the Government's April 15 target for first doses has been achieved, with the programme now moving to younger groups.
He said: "We have now passed another hugely significant milestone in our vaccine programme by offering jabs to everyone in the nine highest risk groups. That means more than 32 million people have been given the precious protection vaccines provide against Covid-19.
"I want to thank everyone involved in the vaccine rollout, which has already saved many thousands of lives. We will now move forward with completing essential second doses and making progress towards our target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July."
Nearly 40 million vaccines have now been given in total, to those in the top nine priority groups, which include all adults over 50 as well as the clinically vulnerable and health and social care workers.
Last week research by Public Health England found that the programme has already saved more than 10,000 lives, with those in the top nine priority groups accounting for 99 per cent of deaths from Covid.
The April 15 deadline was hit despite a slowdown in the rollout of first doses in recent weeks, with a shortfall of AstraZeneca supplies and the decision from watchdogs that under-30s should be offered an alternative type of vaccine.
Last week, the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation said younger people should not be offered a first dose of AstraZeneca because of evidence linking it to rare blood clots.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: "I'm delighted the team have done such an amazing job to hit yet another target early. The tide of this pandemic is turning in every part of the UK, as every day more and more people are being given the safety of a Covid-19 vaccine.
"Vaccines are safe and effective and have already saved more than 10,000 lives. The vaccine programme has had a significant impact on reducing the pressure on hospitals, helping us to gradually ease restrictions. I urge everybody eligible to come forward for their vaccine as soon as possible to protect yourself and your loved ones."
Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, added: "Vaccinating 19 out of 20 people aged 50 and over is an incredible milestone.
"Thanks to our NHS nurses, doctors, pharmacists, operational managers and thousands of other staff and volunteers, the NHS Covid vaccination programme is without a doubt the most successful in our history. It's one of our tickets out of this pandemic and offers real hope for the future."
Moderna jabs started being deployed in Wales last week. Around 50,000 doses are expected in England this month at sites including Sheffield Arena and Reading's Madejski Stadium.
These vaccines will be prioritised for those under the age of 30 who were eligible for jabs because of jobs as health or care workers or caring responsibilities, but had appointments cancelled because of the changed advice on AstraZeneca.
With supplies constrained during April, it is expected to take several weeks before all those in their 40s are offered their first vaccine as the programme ramps up in May. Those who do not book online slots for jabs at mass vaccination centres and pharmacies will be able to wait for invitations to be vaccinated more locally.
The pace of the rollout of first doses will be constrained by the rising demand for second doses and the need to reserve millions of doses of Pfizer and Moderna for the under-30s.
A fourth vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, is expected to get the green light from regulators shortly, but supplies are not expected to start arriving until July.