health

Vaccine rolled out for over-18s in three UK areas as panic rises over Indian variant spike


Fears the Indian Covid variant is spreading in the UK has prompted the government to accelerate the rollout of the vaccine to people over the age of 18 in specific areas. The coronavirus vaccine rollout will kick off in parts of Lancashire amid growing concern at the spread of the Indian variant. 

Jabs will be offered to all remaining adults around Blackburn and Darwen from next week, the council said. 

Officials and NHS partners have secured extra doses of the jab, and will also conduct surge testing in the area after a increase in cases linked to the new deadly strain.

Boris Johnson has previously signalled that local lockdowns may be necessary in hotspots, saying the Government is “anxious” and “ruling nothing out”.

Pressed on the possibility, the Prime Minister replied at lunchtime: “There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it. Obviously there’s surge testing, there’s surge tracing.”

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“At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get.”

How worried should we be about the new Indian variant?

Public Health England initially classified the coronavirus variant B.1.617.2, informally known as the Indian variant, as a variant of concern due to evidence it was more transmissible.

However, concerns over the Indian variant have grown in recent weeks as the proportion of Indian variant cases went from one per cent to 11 per cent of COVID-19 infections in England, with other variants less than one per cent.

“We are worried about the Indian variant,” Matt Hancock told Times Radio earlier this week.

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He continued: “You will have seen the very stringent measures that we have taken at the border.

“We have got enhanced tracking and tracing of all of those Indian variants that we see.

“The evidence is that it is much easier to transmit than the original strain and easier to transmit even than the so-called Kent variant which is now the predominant type in the UK.

“It just shows that we have got to be vigilant.”

However, he also stressed: “There isn’t any evidence yet that the vaccine does not work against it, in the same way that the vaccine works very, very effectively against the Kent variant.”

There are also mounting concerns about the full unlocking of restrictions on 21 June.

A member of the government’s scientific advisory committee, Sage, has raised alarm bells while next Monday’s step 3 of easing of restrictions in England would go ahead, concerns over the Indian variant might derail the final step on 21 June.

“A delay is possible,” he told i.

The group of scientists monitoring new variants, COG-UK, has identified a total of 1723 cases of B1617.2, and while some of these will be duplicates, if the figure is confirmed by Public Health England in its weekly update this would be more than triple last week’s number of 520.

Public Health England (PHE) has suggested the variant, first detected in India, is at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7 (the Kent variant).

The cases are spread across the country, however, the majority of the cases are in two areas – the North West (predominantly Bolton) and London – and this is where we are seeing the greatest transmission.

“There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective,” reported PHE.





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