Matt Hancock has said the government is confident it will hit its target of offering a coronavirus jab to all of its top four priority groups by Monday, adding uptake among the elderly has been “incredible”.
More than 13m jabs have already been given in the UK’s vaccination programme, which is one of the furthest ahead in the world.
The government pledged to offer a vaccine to all over-70s, elderly care home residents and their carers, and health workers by February 15.
Hancock added that while hitting the target was “obviously critical”, the bigger issue “driving uptake” of the vaccines being offered.
He told BBC Breakfast: “Amongst 75- to 79-year-olds – people in their late 70s – uptake has been 96%, it is absolutely incredible.
“However, every extra percent reduces the number of people who are not protected and that is crucial to how effective the overall rollout is.”
Away from the elderly groups in the target, however, there is less clarity. The government has been unable to say how many frontline healthcare workers have had a Covid-19 vaccination, despite them being a priority group who should all have the jab by Monday.
At a Downing Street coronavirus press conference earlier this week, frontline health workers were the only people within those four groups whose vaccination progress was not announced.
And the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said on Tuesday that there were ongoing fears nursing staff who do not work directly for the NHS were being left behind.
While individual organisations representing workers have publicly released separate vaccination totals for health workers, the government has not.
Meanwhile, Hancock also said the rollout of coronavirus vaccines is “absolutely essential” for summer holidays to take place.
He urged people to be “patient” over the prospect of getting away – despite himself having already booked a summer break in Cornwall.
Hancock’s comments come a day after Boris Johnson warned it was “too early for people to be certain about what we will be able to do this summer”, and transport secretary Grant Shapps claimed “people shouldn’t be booking holidays right now”.
Holidays are banned under the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown, but the travel industry is desperate for rules to be relaxed in time for the vital summer season.