The UK has achieved another milestone in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic as more than half the country's adult population received the first of two vaccine doses to protect against COVID-19, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Saturday.
The minister also sought to allay vaccine supply fears as he revealed that Friday marked the highest number of daily vaccinations in the National Health Service (NHS) led programme so far. "I'm delighted to be able to say that we've now vaccinated half of all adults in the UK," Hancock said in a Twitter message.
"The vaccine is a national success story and our way out of this pandemic. When you get the call, get the jab," he said.
It marks the midway point of the UK's target to vaccinate all adults against COVID-19 by the end of July, and at the current rate the deadline is set to be met ahead of time.
A total of 22,337,590 people had been given the first jab as of March 18, according to the NHS England. This is equivalent to the 50.5 per cent of the population of England aged 18 and over, based on the latest estimates by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The announcement comes a day after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson received his first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and declared he literally did not feel a thing.
It was very good, very quick and I cannot recommend it too highly. Everybody, when you get your notification to go for a jab please go and get it. It is the best thing for you, best thing for your family and for everybody else," said the 56-year-old, who had booked his appointment as the UK began vaccinating all adults over 50 this week.
European countries such as France, Germany and Italy have lifted their pause on the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs, after the regulators have confirmed the lack of evidence around a causal link between the vaccines and blood clot concerns.
"The Oxford jab is safe and the Pfizer jab is safe. The thing that isn't safe is catching Covid, which is why it is so important that we all get our jabs as soon as our turn comes," Johnson had said earlier in the week.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) backed the AstraZeneca vaccine, announcing it was "safe and effective" and its benefits in preventing Covid-19 hospital admission and death greatly outweighed potential risks.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have said that the jab is safe and have encouraged people to take up their vaccine appointments.
The WHO's advisory committee on vaccine safety issued a formal statement on Friday saying the vaccine "continues to have a positive benefit-risk profile, with tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world".
Meanwhile, a surge in coronavirus cases across Europe threatens a new wave in Britain.
Scientific advisers and other health experts are becoming extremely concerned by an increase in infections that is forcing some European nations back into lockdown and are warning against booking holidays abroad for the upcoming summer months.