UK to vaccinate over-25s, but health secretary warns Indian Covid-19 variant creating ‘tighter’ race with virus

The UK is set to start vaccinating people aged 25-29 against Covid-19 from Tuesday, bringing the government closer to its target of offering the jab to all adults by August, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Announcing the progress on vaccinations in Parliament on Monday, Hancock told MPs that there should still be “no room for complacency” due to the threat posed by the so-called ‘Delta’ strain of the virus.

“The Delta variant first identified in India has made the race between the virus and this vaccination effort tighter,” Hancock said.

The size of Delta’s “growth advantage” is unclear, he said but scientists now estimate it is 40% more transmissible than the UK’s previously dominant ‘Kent’ variant – now known as Alpha.

The Delta variant now makes up the “vast majority” of all new infections in the UK, Hancock added.

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Just 10 days ago the health secretary said Delta accounted for between 50% and 75% of new cases. On June 3, Public Health England said the number of Delta cases in the UK had shot up by 5,472 since the previous week to 12,431.

Hancock said the government’s vaccine rollout is helping keep the rate of serious illness due to the Delta variant down, with hospitalisations still “broadly flat.”

Most of those admitted to hospital haven’t been vaccinated at all and only around 1% of those infected with the Delta variant have been hospitalised, he said.

The increased transmission of Delta and other new Covid-19 variants was also raised by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a regular news briefing on Monday.

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He spoke about variants in the context of countries with higher vaccination rates lifting restrictions, while many states with higher infection rates “still face an extremely dangerous situation.”

“Lifting restrictions too quickly could be disastrous for those who are not vaccinated,” the WHO chief said.

He also reiterated his calls for the issue of vaccine inequity to be addressed, with six months now having passed since the first Covid-19 jabs were administered. High-income countries have given out 44% of the world’s doses, compared to just 0.4% in low-income countries, Ghebreyesus said.

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