Speaking as news emerged that the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID vaccine has been approved for use, in a decision described earlier in the week as a potential “game changer”, the minister said the government wants to speed up the vaccination programme.
It has 100 million doses on order, with each person requiring two doses spaced up to 12 weeks apart, and Hancock has said it gives the UK a way out of the pandemic by spring.
The country also has 30 million of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, giving it enough doses of COVID vaccines to cover the whole population, he added.
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Hancock said under-50s who are considered clinically vulnerable to coronavirus will be vaccinated before others their age.
However, speaking to Times Radio on Wednesday morning, he admitted the date when under-50s without conditions can be vaccinated is at the mercy of how quickly the vaccine can be produced.
“It depends on the speed of manufacture, I wish I could give you a date... but we can’t because it depends on the speed of the manufacture,” he said.
“This product, it’s not a chemical compound, it’s a biological product, so it’s challenging to make. So that is the rate-limiting factor in terms of the rollout.
“Now that we have two vaccines being delivered we can accelerate – how fast we can accelerate will be determined by how fast the manufacturers can produce.
“But what I can tell you is that I now have a very high degree of confidence that by the spring enough of those who are vulnerable will be protected to allow us to get out of this pandemic situation.”
Under-50s who received a letter telling them to shield will be “pulled forward” in the vaccine queue, Hancock told BBC Breakfast.
He said: “And then once we’ve vaccinated all of them, and the over-50s, which is a significant chunk of the population, then we will continue to vaccinate the under-50s, even though the likelihood of dying from the disease is much lower if you’re under the age of 50.”
Children will not be vaccinated, he said, because “this vaccine has not been trialled on children”, who are “much less likely to have symptoms from the disease”.
Earlier this week, Professor Calum Semple, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the Oxford vaccine would be a “game changer” because it would make many more doses available.
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