With permission, I would like to make a statement on the pandemic. Today marks an important milestone Mr Speaker in our fight against this virus, as we take Step 4 on our roadmap.
It is a long-awaited moment for the businesses who now can open their doors at long last, the happy couples who can have weddings without curbs on numbers and of course the people who can see more of their loved ones in care homes.
Although we have made huge advances Mr Speaker in our race between the vaccine and the virus, we are not at the finish line yet. Instead, we are entering what I believe to be the next stage. A stage where we continue with caution, while doing what it takes to manage the risk of this virus – which is still with us and still possess a threat. Cases and hospitalisations have risen over the past week, as we predicted Mr Speaker and we know that these numbers will get worse before they get better.
Although there’s never a perfect time to take this step, making the move today gives us the best chance of success. We’re cautiously easing restrictions when we have the natural firebreak of the school holidays and when the warmer weather gives us an advantage. So we will move forward, with caution, drawing on the defences we have built, as we set out in our five-point plan two weeks ago.
One of these five defences is the protective wall provided by our vaccination programme and I would like to start by updating the House on this life-saving work. Our vaccination programme has given us extra legs in our race against this virus. The protection it has built up in people across the United Kingdom means the ratio between cases and hospitalisations is the lowest it has been during this pandemic. This reinforces the need to protect as many people as we can, as quickly as we can and we made a four-week delay to Step 4 so we could do exactly that. 8 million more vaccinations in that period. We set the target of giving second doses to two-thirds of UK adults by today – and we hit that target last week, with five days to spare. We also pledged to offer a first dose of a vaccine to all adults – and we’ve met this target too.
And now almost 88 per cent of adults have taken up this offer – and although uptake amongst 18 to 30-year olds is much lower and needs to increase we are looking at this. So our work is not over yet. Just as we strive to reach the remaining adults who have not yet had first or second doses, we are already making our plans for the next stage.
Because we do not know how long immunity lasts and because coronavirus mutates, just like flu, we must stay one step ahead of the virus.
So we are drawing up plans for a potential booster programme – subject to advice, the final advice from the JCVI – so we can protect the most vulnerable ahead of winter.
And we are also looking at extending our vaccination programme so we can protect even more people. We asked the JCVI to consider whether children and young adults should be given the offer of a vaccine – and this advice has been published today.
Before I continue, allow me to apologise to you for mistakenly referencing to this on air this morning, before setting out the details in full before the House. The JCVI considered not just the health impacts, but also the non-health impacts, like how education is disrupted by outbreaks in schools. I should reassure the House that the number of children and young people who have had severe outcomes from COVID is extremely low with a hospitalisation rate during the second wave of between 100 and 400 for every million.
And when we look at the small numbers that were hospitalised, most of them had severe underlying health conditions.
Today’s advice recommends that we continue to vaccinate 16 to 17-year-olds who are in an at-risk group , as we do now. But it also recommends expanding the offer of the vaccine to some younger children with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of COVID-19. This includes children aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, immunosuppression, and profound or multiple learning disabilities.
The JCVI advice also recommends offering a vaccine to children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with someone who is immunosuppressed. This means we can indirectly protect the immunosuppressed, who are at higher risk of serious disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a full immune response to vaccination. Finally, the JCVI advises that we should offer the vaccine to all 17-year-olds who are within three months of their 18th birthday, so we can make sure they are protected as soon as they turn 18.
Together with Health Ministers in all parts of the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State has accepted this advice and has asked the NHS to put it into action as soon as possible. As we do this, we will be using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is the only vaccine in the UK that’s been clinically authorised for people between the ages of 12 and 17. I know that people will have questions about what it means for them and their children. But I can assure them Mr Speaker that nobody needs to come forward at this stage.
The NHS will