Everyone aged over 18 in the UK can now book in to get a Covid-19 vaccine, the NHS has announced as it races to boost uptake during the lockdown extension.
The NHS will start to send around 1.5 million texts to people aged between 18 and 20 from Friday morning to prompt them to arrange an appointment.
The milestone has been reached fewer than 200 days since the first Covid-19 vaccine was administered outside of a clinical trial to Maggie Keenan in Coventry.
Margaret Keenan was the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech jab
The UK Government is now targeting offering everyone their first Covid jab by July 19, the new date for the final step of reopening in England.
Boris Johnson said: “Offering all adults a jab less than 200 days after the programme launched is one of our country’s greatest collective achievements, saving over 14,000 lives so far.
“I cannot thank NHS staff, the Army, volunteers, manufacturers and all those involved in this extraordinary national effort enough.
“Today sees vaccines accelerate in their race with the virus – so now let’s finish the job. If you haven’t yet, come forward and get your jab.”
The announcement reflects the success the UK has had in rolling out its Covid jabs compared to scores of other rich nations.
Around 80 per cent of UK adults have had their first dose of the vaccine and around 58 per cent of UK adults have had their second dose.
The fullest immunity available is only reached around two or three weeks after the second dose, with Government ministers stressing the importance of getting both jabs.
Covid infections in UK by vaccine status (Zoe Covid Study/Kings)
Mr Johnson’s four-week delay of the final stage of reopening, originally due to take place on June 21 at the earliest, was announced earlier this week.
The Prime Minister argued that the delay would give the country more time to push ahead with the vaccination rollout, especially double-jabbing people aged over 40.
Mr Johnson has called July 19 the “terminus date” for reopening in an attempt to provide reassurance that another delay is not likely. However he has declined to offer a “cast iron guarantee” that the date will not slip further back, given the uncertainty around the Delta coronavirus variant, first detected in India.
The variant is believed to be between 40 and 80 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant, which was once the most dominant strain in the UK.
The news that the youngest adults have finally been reached in the vaccine roll-out was praised as a major moment by NHS leaders.
Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, said: “This is truly a watershed moment: whoever you are, wherever you live, if you are aged 18 or older and you are yet to book your Covid jab, today should be the day you make that happen.
“Only months after delivering the world-first first jab hard working NHS staff have given more than 60 million vaccinations in England alone, saving thousands of lives and giving the entire country hope for a brighter future.
“Extensive planning and the tireless hard work of staff and volunteers have made the NHS vaccine programme an historic success.”
Government ministers are considering what now should be the approach to vaccinating children and are awaiting advice from scientists on the best approach to take.
Critical in their decision-making will be the results of trials of Covid-19 jabs on children which have been carried out throughout the year.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said that the rollout of the Covid vaccines had saved an estimated 14,000 lives and prevented 42,000 hospitalisations in England alone.
Mr Hancock called the call-up of people aged 18, 19, and 20 for jabs a “momentous occasion in our national mission” to protect the country from coronavirus.
He said: “In our race between the vaccine and the virus, we’re approaching the final stretch and we are doing all we can to vaccinate people as quickly as possible with first and second doses.
"When you get the call, get the jab so we can put this pandemic behind us for good.”