The UK’s vaccination rollout has saved more than 14,000 lives, and prevented 44,500 hospital admissions in England alone, including 2,500 in the past two weeks, according to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.
Speaking at a Downing Street news briefing, he hailed the figures as “real progress” but warned “we know there is much more to do”.
He promised to intensify efforts to encourage more people to come forward for jabs, including in London where take up has “slightly behind” other areas of the country. A summit will be held in the capital on Friday by NHS chiefs, clinicians and the mayor.
Giving an example, he said there had been more than two million people aged over 50 in England who had been given a first dose but not a second. However, in the past two weeks, that figure had been brought down to 900,000.
Mr Zahawi said the programme “has saved thousands of lives” by getting doses into arms before restrictions are eased on 19 July.
“The one thing you know, we know, is that vaccines are making the real difference. The vaccines are our way out of this pandemic,” he said.
“The latest data show that the vaccination programme has already saved over 14,000 lives, and I can share with you that now it has prevented over 44,500 hospitalisations in England alone – that is 2,500 hospitalisations prevented in the past two weeks.”
Mr Zahawi said “this country is getting a little bit safer every day”, adding: “Whatever your age, whatever your background, the vaccine will protect you.”
He said: “The enthusiasm is making a huge difference. We have already given first doses to almost half of all 25 to 29 year-olds in England and only a week after the programme opened to all adults on Friday, one third of people aged between 18 and 25 have had their first dose.
“To all of the young people who have stepped up, I want to say a huge thank you – you’ve protected yourself, you’ve protected your families and you’ve protected your communities, because the one thing you know, that we know, is that vaccines are making the real difference.”
The vaccines minister also noted that in the two days since the jab booking system was opened to everyone over 18 there were “six appointments being booked every second”.
He added that the government’s “mission” is now to get as many people protected by the vaccine as possible.
His comments came as data suggests that across all age and ethnic groups, coronavirus vaccine uptake has slowed down significantly over the past two months.
However, week on week, there are positive rises for all ethnic groups, information from OpenSafely which is compiled by NHS data shows.
This indicates more people are gradually coming forward to get the jab, which is the case for both the over-80s and those aged 50 to 54.
The data shows there is a 21 percentage point difference in take-up of the vaccine between black and white people aged over 80.
This gap increases to over 25 percentage points in the 50 to 54 age range.
The same information source suggests the difference in take up between black individuals and South Asian individuals aged over 80 is 9.4 percentage points, but that this drops by one in the 50 to 54 age range.
A higher proportion of younger people of South Asian background are therefore taking up the offer of the jab in comparison to their older counterparts, the data shows.
Addressing vaccine hesitancy at the Downing Street press conference, Mr Zahawi said a “concerted, community led effort” has “truly paid off” and led to “real positive results”.
“So if you look at the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), vaccine hesitancy has halved in the past few months among Black and Black British people since February,” the vaccines minister said.
“And it has halved among Asian and Asian British people too in the same period. This is real progress, but we know there is more, much more, to do.”
Information is unavailable for those age ranges under 50, but figures released earlier this month from ORB International and the Vaccine Confidence Project suggested levels are vaccine hesitancy were falling among younger age groups.
Among men under 45, confidence in the COVID-19 jab had risen by 17% – increasing to 27% of women under 45.
Greater numbers of adults in this age range now said they would get vaccinated, too – with 63% saying they would definitely get the jab, and a further 21% likely to accept.
The latest figures show that six in 10 adults in the UK are estimated to have received both doses of a COVID vaccine.
A total of 31,740,115 second doses have now been delivered since the vaccine rollout began in December last year.
Figures show that an estimated 82.5% of all UK adults have now received a first dose.
The UK has reported 16,135 new COVID-19 cases and another 19 coronavirus-related deaths in the latest 24-hour period, according to government data.
This is the highest number of daily infections since 6 February when 18,262 were announced.
Looking ahead to Friday’s London Vaccine Summit announced by Mr Zahawi during the conference, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Together, we will focus on making sure every possible avenue is taken to accelerate the rollout and ensure that all Londoners take up both doses of the vaccine as soon as possible.”
According to the Welsh government, all adults in Wales have now been offered their first jab.
The Scottish government has said all adults will be booked in for their initial dose by 27 June and the UK government has said it hopes to offer all over-18s an initial jab by 19 July.