In a third expansion within a week, the UK’s health service on Friday opened up the COVID-19 vaccination programme to all those aged 40 and over as latest statistics reflect a steady decline in coronavirus infection rates within the community.
Nearly three-quarters of a million appointments were made on Monday and Tuesday as the National Health Service (NHS) began by first inviting 44-year olds followed by people aged 42 and 43 by text.
Messages are now going out to 40 and 41-year-olds, allowing them to arrange a jab through the NHS national booking service, as the health service move through the age-based cohorts for vaccination.
"With nine tenths of people aged 45 and over having been jabbed, nearly three quarters of a million new appointments were made in just two days as our booking service opened to people aged 42 to 44,” said NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens.
"With second doses also proceeding apace, we're now ready to invite all those aged 40 and over to join the most successful vaccination drive in health service history," he said.
Since the vaccination rollout began in December 2020, more than 28 million people have been covered with at least one dose in England – nearly two-thirds of the adult population.
The NHS said its workers have fully vaccinated more than 11 million people with second doses remaining a priority. It is vital everyone books in for their second jab to ensure they receive the maximum protection from coronavirus.
“The rapid rollout of the NHS vaccination programme, the swiftest in Europe, is down to months of careful planning and sheer hard work by nurses, doctors and countless other staff supported by our volunteers,” said NHS Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis.
“If you receive a text inviting you for your jab, please follow the instructions provided and book – it is simple, effective and provides vital protection against the virus,” he said.
The NHS currently vaccinates using three vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, all of which have been approved as safe and effective by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The vaccination drive expansion comes as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that in the week until April 24, infections fell in all four nations of the UK and were 20 times lower than in January.
The ONS survey, which tests a random selection of thousands of people in the community, estimates that about 66,000 people in the UK would have tested positive for coronavirus in mid-April.
This is down from the previous week's estimate and much lower than the figure of 1.25 million infected at the peak of the UK’s second wave in January.