Vaccinations could be targeted on areas showing spikes in Covid rates if government scientists propose the idea, Downing Street has said.
Asked if “surge” vaccinations could accompany “surge” testing in towns which have worrying increases in new variants, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said “all options” were being considered.
Scientific advisers on the advisory Sage committee were meeting on Thursday to reassess the sharp rise in cases of the so-called Indian variant of the virus.
The PM’s spokesperson said that there were no plans to reintroduced a regional system for covid restrictions but did not rule out localised action on vaccinations.
Put to him the idea of “surge” vaccinations for over-18s, he said: “We want to consider all options. We’re not going to rule anything out. We want to make sure we keep the public safe and keep our roadmap on track.”
“The meeting is happening with Sage today. And should they come out with any further updates on this variant originating in India and its epidemiology in the UK, then we will consider it.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) is the independent body that advises policy on vaccine roll-out.
But a growing number of scientists have urged a new approach to quickly stamp out the rise in cases of the Indian variant, urging ministers to use stockpiles of Pfizer and other vaccines to target areas of concern.
“It’s the JCVI that set the terms with regards how vaccination rollout is done currently that’s by age. And that has been very successful, but clearly it’s kept under review by the JCVI and others and we will take heed of any advice given to us,” the PM’s spokesman said.
Towns such as Bolton and Blackburn have seen sharp increases in the variant in the past week, although vaccination of the older population has meant there has been no accompanying rise in hospitalisations or deaths.
Amid fears the new variant is spreading among younger populations, it emerged on Thursday that a handful of areas are now encouraging all over-18s to come forward for the jab.
Speaking in County Durham about the Indian variant, Boris Johnson said: “It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it.
“At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.
“We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do. There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.”
Through 2020, the PM replaced a national lockdown with a ‘tiered’ system of regional variations on Covid restrictions.
But he imposed a new national lockdown at the start of 2021 and the success of the vaccine rollout across the whole country has led to a nationwide approach.
However with many areas of the country virtually Covid-free and some areas showing spikes in cases, both the PM and health secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday they could not rule out a return to a tiered system.
Downing Street said there were “no plans” to reintroduce the tier system in England amid concerns local restrictions could be needed in areas where variants are identified.
The official spokesman told reporters: “We have set out what we want to do on the road map, moving together as a nation on this, and that has been very successful so far.
“There are no plans to reintroduce tiering measures, like I say we have got a raft of measures available to us which are already in place, with regards local testing, surge testing and tracing.”