Vaccines: who has had one and when can we expect an impact

More than 15 million people in UK have had at least one shot, but what about the rest of the population?

A member of clinical staff prepares the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid19 vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre in Ealing, west London.
A member of clinical staff prepares the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid19 vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA
A member of clinical staff prepares the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid19 vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA
Science editor

Last modified on Mon 15 Feb 2021 00.13 EST

More than 15 million people in the UK have had at least one shot of a Covid vaccine in the first wave of jabs aimed at protecting the over-70s, the clinically extremely vulnerable and health and social care workers. What are the next steps in the vaccine rollout?

Who has been vaccinated so far?

The first wave of vaccinations targeted the top four priority groups drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). About 88% of Covid deaths occur in these groups so it is essential that vaccine coverage is high. Official figures show that at least 86% of the over-70s in England have so far taken up the vaccine.

When will vaccines have an impact?

The impact on Covid deaths is expected to appear in the next few weeks when scientists compare death rates among carefully matched vaccinated and unvaccinated patients. Given that it takes three weeks for protection to build after the first shot, and that there is a time lag between infection and dying, the full effect of vaccinating the top four groups will not be clear until March.

What will vaccines mean for new infections?

Trials show that all of the vaccines provide a good level of protection against severe disease and death from Covid, but it is unclear how well they prevent infections and the spread of the virus. Early evidence on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine suggests the first shot reduces transmission by two-thirds, but that needs to be confirmed in real-world situations. If the vaccines do reduce transmission, new cases should fall in care homes and hospitals first, as vaccination coverage is higher in these than in the community.

Who gets the vaccine next?

From Monday, the vaccine will be rolled out to groups five and six on the priority list. These include people aged 65 to 69 and those who have underlying health problems that put them at greater risk of severe illness or death from the disease. Ministers plan to vaccinate the remaining groups six to nine in the first phase of rollout before May. Nearly half of the UK population, 32m people, are in these top nine groups, which account for 99% of Covid deaths.

What about second shots?

Second shots are being given no later than 12 weeks after the first, meaning a person who gets vaccinated today could wait until mid-May for their booster. The JCVI is monitoring Public Health England data weekly in case it needs to change its guidance. If evidence emerges that protection from the first shots is waning in older people, they are likely to get the booster sooner. If protection holds, however, and the vaccines do a good job of preventing people from spreading the virus, the committee may recommend delaying the second shot even longer.

'We've made huge progress' says Johnson on UK vaccine rollout – video
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'We've made huge progress' says Johnson on UK vaccine rollout – video

What about the rest of the population?

Protecting the nine priority groups still leaves 21m adults who will not have been offered a Covid vaccine. The JCVI is working on how to prioritise the rest of the adult population and expects to set out its recommendations by the end of the month. They may recommend prioritising those most at risk of exposure, such as bus and train drivers, teachers, first responders, the military and those working in the legal system.