COVID-19: Three-quarters of adults in UK have now had first vaccine dose

More than three-quarters of adults in the UK have now had their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the milestone was reached by midnight on Tuesday in a speech in which he praised the role of the NHS, scientists, the UK medicines regulator the MHRA and the vaccines taskforce in the vaccine rollout.

More than 65.6 million vaccines have now been administered across the UK between 8 December and 1 June, with more than 39.5m first doses – 75.2% of adults – and more than 26m first doses – 49.5% of adults.

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Mr Hancock also announced the government has entered into commercial negotiations with AstraZeneca to buy a vaccine that works against the South Africa variant (Beta variant), which was found to be more transmissible.

A further 4,330 cases were reported moments after Mr Hancock revealed the vaccine update – the highest amount since 1 April when there were 4,479.

And another 12 deaths within 28 days of testing positive were reported, a day after zero deaths were recorded – the first time since 30 July last year.

Speaking at the University of Oxford, where the AstraZeneca vaccine was developed, Mr Hancock said his first meeting about the vaccine was in January 2020, just after the virus’ genomic sequence was traced and was told a vaccine might never be developed as a jab against a human coronavirus had never been made before.

"Who’d have thought just 11 months later we’d be able to deploy the first-ever clinically approved coronavirus vaccine?" he said.

"I believe the UK’s vaccination success story was not an accident, it is a result of the actions we took, decisions that we made before."

Mr Hancock also revealed last March he flew to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff to speak to the devolved governments’ health ministers face-to-face to organise the vaccine rollout "as a union" – something he said was essential to get the vaccines developed and into people’s arms.

Western countries have faced criticism for buying up vaccines, which Mr Hancock acknowledged by saying: "As of today I can confirm over half a billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have now been released for supply globally – the majority in low and middle-income countries."

He added that Pfizer will also deliver its vaccine at cost to low-income countries.

Mr Hancock’s comments came amid a continuing debate over whether the final stages of unlocking restrictions in England can go ahead later this month due to concerns over the spread of the Indian variant.

The health secretary said there is nothing "yet in the data to say we’re definitely off track" to move to step four of the roadmap on 21 June, adding that it is "too early to make the decision".

He echoed Boris Johnson’s comments, with the prime minister also saying there was a need to wait "a little bit longer" before a firm decision could be made.

However, Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on COVID-19, told Sky News that despite low infection levels, unlocking restrictions too quickly in the UK could create a further "spike" in infections.

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