Vaccination centres are being stood down in some areas because NHS staff have to get back to their day jobs, despite pledges to boost jab uptake, health officials have said.
On Wednesday, ministers said 900,000 people aged 50 and over have yet to have their second Covid jabs, urging everyone who is due a vaccine to come forward.
The rollout is now offering vaccines to all adults, with a “weekend of walk-ins” promised, in venues including Edgbaston Cricket Ground, football stadia and “jabs buses”.
Nadhim Zahawi, the Vaccines Minister, told a Downing Street press conference: “Our mission is now to get as many people protected as we can and to protect them as quickly as we can,” saying the decision to delay the opening up of freedoms had been “difficult but essential”.
Mr Zahawi said: “We’re going to use these four weeks to give our NHS that bit more time so we can get those remaining jabs in the arms of those who really do need them.”
But the Minister and health officials were questioned on why some vaccination centres are being closed, despite high numbers in need of jabs.
Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures
Moving the ‘infantry’ to where it is needed
Mr Zahawi said the “big final push” to boost vaccine uptake meant the use of more mobile centres and walk-in options, saying the NHS now had to move the “infantry” to where it is needed.
He told the press conference: “Sometimes that may mean that some vaccination centres are stood down in favour of a mobile site or a walk-in centre or elsewhere.”
Dr Nikki Kanani, the medical director of primary care for NHS England, added: “Often it is not that centres are closing. It is that staff are busy vaccinating in other centres or indeed are members of a clinical team doing other parts of their day job.”
Mr Zahawi said actions were being taken to “hone in” on parts of the country which have fallen behind, with a summit due to be held on Friday in London with mayor Sadiq Khan, in a bid to boost uptake in the capital.
Those in their 40s are being urged to come forward for second doses, with the recommended gap between them now reduced from 12 weeks to eight.
This graph shows the number of Covid-19 deaths in the UK
Credit: Downing Street
On Wednesday, health officials said that across the country, deaths from Covid-19 are now so low that they cannot be seen on the graphs.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said the latest data shows that vaccines are “breaking the link” between cases and hospitalisations, and deaths.
While infections are running at an average of 10,000 to 11,000 a day, hospitalisations are rising much more slowly, she said, while weekly data shows an average of just 14 deaths a day.
Highlighting mortality data, she told the Downing Street news conference: “Although every death is a terrible tragedy, the numbers are so small in this graph that you can’t even see them… suggesting that the vaccination programme is really helping to prevent the severe illnesses, the hospitalisations, and deaths from Covid.”
Data show the growth in Covid hospitalisations is slowing sharply and has begun to fall in some areas such as London and the North West.
This graph shows the number of positive Covid-19 cases
Credit: Downing Street
Analysis by The Telegraph shows that admissions in the north west peaked on June 18 at 6.3 per 100,000 people. Two days later, the weekly average had dropped to 5.9.
Since the end of April, hospitalisations in the region grew fourfold, despite the case rate increasing tenfold, in evidence that the vaccine is working.
This is compared to the comparable period of the second wave – towards the end of the summer – when the hospital rate had increased by almost 15 times.
Case rates continue to rise in 32 of the region’s 39 local authorities which could mean that the early stabilisation in hospitalisations is temporary.
However, data from Bolton and Blackburn, where cases are firmly on the decline after being the first places to experience high delta variant prevalence, is likely to give some confidence to those local authorities.
Extra support to battle delta variant
It came as the Health Service Journal reported that hospital admissions have begun falling in London, according to week-on-week data.
The latest official figures show a seven-day average of 219 daily hospital admissions, with 1,508 Covid patients in hospital overall, 250 of which are on ventilators.
On Wednesday, ministers announced extra support to combat the delta variant in Hounslow, west London, was being scaled back because the growth rate of Covid-19 has slowed and is now in line with national rates.
It means that guidance on taking particular caution when meeting people from other households no longer applies to the borough, although surge testing will continue.
Lord Bethell, a health minister, said: “It is a testament to the heroic efforts of local leaders and residents that case rates are slowing and are now comparable to those reported nationally and across the London region and we can safely remove additional guidance.”