The Government wants to vaccinate as many as one million people a day as part of a drive to beat the Indian variant of Covid-19 and save the British summer, The Telegraph can disclose.
As a first step, ministers have told MPs they “safely” expect to increase daily doses from 500,000 to 800,000 within a fortnight, by drawing on a stockpile of 3.2 million doses.
Government insiders hope this daily run-rate could be further increased, with the possibility of reaching a peak of around one million during some days over the summer.
A further boost to the vaccination push could come this week when MHRA, the medicines regulator, is expected to give the green light for Johnson & Johnson’s single dose Janssen vaccine.
On Saturday night there were fears that the Government's decision to bring forward second doses for over-50s could impact younger people, with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warning they might have to wait "a while longer".
But ministers hope to keep daily doses at “800,000 and above”, putting the possibility of hitting one million first and second jabs a day in sight.
And senior government sources also confirmed that – despite the need to get second jabs into the arms of people in England – first jabs will be open “to the over 35s in the coming days”.
It comes as:
Doctors were told by NHS England not to rearrange second doses for over-50s booked in the next 10 days, but from May 25 any appointment that is more than eight weeks after their first dose must be brought forward;
Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, warned there was a risk to other live events after June 21 when all restrictions are meant to be lifted;
Vaccine buses were deployed to areas such as Bolton and Blackburn after high numbers of infections were identified as the Indian variant of Covid-19;
The vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history, has so far seen over 36 million people receive their first dose and over 19 million receive their second dose.
Ministers are confident that the army of 200,000 vaccination volunteers – including 80,000 vaccinators – will be enough to handle the expected surge in supply.
Ministers will review progress of efforts to contain the spread of the Indian variant at a meeting of the Cabinet Office's Covid-O committee in the next few days, after further restrictions are eased from Monday.
Discussions that have already taken place among ministers reportedly include the prospect of reimposing local lockdowns on areas with high prevalence of the variant.
Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister, was among those calling for tougher measures, while Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is known to oppose additional restrictions.
Instead, they chose to combine the acceleration in second jabs with the so-called “whack-a-mole” strategy of testing locally and isolating anyone with the virus.
There are concerns among MPs that the decision to bring forward second doses for over-50s could lead to supply issues, but Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine minister, eased their concerns in conference calls late last week. In one call, Mr Zahawi insisted the NHS was “drawing down as fast as the supplies come in”, according to one witness.
On Saturday, Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation, said the Indian variant may make vaccines less effective against mild disease, but not serious disease, as he defended a decision to bring forward second doses.
One insider said: “We have got to bear down on infection rates. We have still got a sizeable percentage of the population that is unvaccinated, and even if you are vaccinated it is not 100 per cent protection against infection.”
Ministers rejected one plan to vaccinate all over-18s in places where the Indian variant is spreading because it would stop those in their 30s and 40s who are at much higher risk from being jabbed.
One source said: “It takes three weeks for the protection to kick in to reduce transmission. Surge testing, contact tracing and isolation … will control infections much more quickly.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said the “sudden change” to the vaccination schedule “could mean that younger people who are not clinically vulnerable may have to wait a while longer”.
But, he added: “We must ensure that vaccine supplies are prioritised for those groups where they are going to have the most impact and be most beneficial for the wider population.”
There were long queues in Bolton on Saturday, where younger people were told not to turn up and expect to get a Covid-19 vaccine, despite reports suggesting "anyone" could queue for a jab.
The Government was unable to say whether the June 21 release will go ahead, with one report saying any final decision might not be made until the week before, leaving holiday makers’ plans in chaos.
Questions were also being asked about why Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, did not stop all flights from India when the new variant first emerged.
Analysis of air traffic figures indicate an average of 900 people were arriving daily from India during the three-week period – 20,000 between April 2 and April 23. One plan expected to get the green light is for Heathrow Terminal 2 to be set aside solely for arrivals from “red list” countries to avoid the risk of mixing at arrivals.
Separately Tory MPs increased pressure on Mr Johnson, who warned on Friday that the Indian variant "could be a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult" to lift all restrictions on June 21.
Writing in Sunday’s Telegraph, Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said that June 21 “is the date by which freedom truly means freedom”.
He said: “Being social is key to being well so by June 21, Britain must be reunited in every sense, and we must start healing the broken bonds of the last year with social contact and normal human interaction.”
And writing for The Telegraph’s website, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality said Britain’s pubs, restaurants and hotels would need more public money to pay rent and rates if the June 21 opening date is delayed.
She said: “If there is to be any delay, which we truly hope there will not be, the Government must recognise the cost to our beleaguered sector – which has seen a two-thirds decline in sales over the past year.
“The decision to reintroduce business rates payments from July 1 already feels premature and must surely be revised if restrictions remain in place.
“Likewise, it is now imperative that the Government extends commercial rent protections to prevent evictions and the potentially irreversible scarring of Britain’s high streets. There may also be the need for a change to the future of furlough.”