COVID-19: 'Come forward and get your jab' - Indian variant fears spark fresh vaccine take up calls

18 May 2021, 06:28 | Updated: 18 May 2021, 08:44

Ministers are stepping up calls for people to get a COVID jab as soon as they are offered one amid fears over the spread of the Indian variant.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has voiced his frustration that some people are refusing to get vaccinated despite being eligible.

Last night he tweeted: "The success of our vaccination programme means we're able to take Step 3 in our roadmap today, carefully easing some of the restrictions we've all endured.

"I urge everyone who's eligible to come forward and get your jab."

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons on Monday that the majority of people admitted to hospital in Bolton with the B1.617.2 variant had been eligible for the jab but had not taken it up.

There are 86 local councils which have five or more cases of the variant.

Mr Hancock said there were now 2,323 confirmed cases of the Indian variant in the UK, of which 483 were in Bolton and in Blackburn with Darwen.

Cases there had doubled in the past week, with 19 people in Bolton in hospital with the variant and eight in Blackburn, and it is now the dominant strain in the area.

The Times has reported that ministers are considering contingency plans for local lockdowns if the strain cannot be brought under control.

In Bolton, a rapid response team has been "surged" into the area, including the deployment of 50 additional vaccinators, the opening of two new vaccination centres and six testing centres.

The rate of vaccination in the town trebled over the weekend, with 6,200 people receiving a jab.

On the wider vaccine rollout, it has been announced that 36 and 37-year-olds will be able to book a jab from Tuesday.

At the same time, over-50s are having their second jabs brought forward on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Mr Hancock was speaking as step three of Boris Johnson's roadmap for easing restrictions in England came into effect.

People are now able to enjoy hugs with loved ones, indoor pints and meals and foreign holidays to a select number of destinations.

The health secretary said the relaxation was possible because of the current situation with the virus, with fewer than 1,000 people in hospital with the virus and the average number of daily deaths having fallen to nine.

"While we can take this step today we must be humble in the face of this virus," Mr Hancock warned.

His tempered message was echoed by the prime minister, who has urged the public to exercise a "heavy dose of caution" due to the threat of the Indian variant.

There are fears the variant - which could be as much as 50% more transmissible than the variant that emerged in Kent at the end of last year and led to England's third lockdown - could delay the lifting of all legal limits on social contact on 21 June, step four of the roadmap.

Mr Hancock told Sky News at the weekend there is a "high degree of confidence" that the current COVID vaccines will protect against the Indian variant, but it could "spread like wildfire" among those who have not had a jab.