Two-thirds of British adults have now received both doses of the Covid vaccine, official figures show.
NHS England data published today revealed a further 124,905 second doses have been dished out.
This brings the number of double-jabbed Britons to 35.1million, or 66.6 per cent of the adult population.
Ministers had aimed to inoculate two thirds of Britons on July 19, meaning the target was met five days early.
Newly-appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid hailed the milestone today as a ‘huge achievement’ and said the vaccine is ‘our wall of defence against the virus’.
Health chiefs will publish updated figures later today, that will also include the number of inoculations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It comes as No10’s top scientists mull over plans to slash the gap between doses to four weeks amid concern the country has hit ‘maximum uptake’.
One adviser warned today any reduction in the gap could actually cause infections to rise further, because it may hamper immunity against the virus.
More than 45.9million first doses have been dished out, but the pace has halved over the past two weeks to 78,000 a day.
NHS England figures show another 124,905 second doses have been dished out, bringing the total number of Brits jabbed to 35.1million, or 66.6 per cent. Health chiefs will publish updated figures later today that will also include inoculations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said ministers’ proposal to drop the waiting time between jabs could lead to weaker immunity in younger people. Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert (right), who invented the AstraZeneca vaccine, said jabs and face coverings are the best defences against the virus
Mr Javid tweeted: ‘Two thirds of adults across the UK have now had two jabs.
‘We have beaten our target by almost a week — this is a huge achievement.
‘Thank you to everyone who has come forward. The vaccine is our wall of defence against the virus.’
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — which advises No10 on the roll-out — claimed today there would be no ‘gain’ from cutting the gap.
He said data shows a four-week interval causes a much lower immune response, meaning people who get the jabs after a shorter time-frame get less protection against the virus.
Other JCVI advisers have also called for No10 not to change tack in its fight against the third wave, echoing Professor Harnden’s concerns.
Vaccines and masks are best ways to protect ourselves on Freedom Day, says scientist behind AstraZeneca Covid vaccine
Vaccines and masks are the best way to protect ourselves after ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday, one of the scientists behind the Oxford University Covid vaccine claimed today.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the brains behind the AstraZeneca jab, said wearing a covering in crowded indoor settings was ‘a sign of respect’.
She admitted masks do little to protect the wearer, but claimed they may prevent some people from passing the virus onto others.
Dame Sarah said she will follow Professor Chris Whitty’s advice to continue to wear masks when they are no longer a legal requirement next week.
Her comments come amid fears that mask-wearing etiquette could spark a culture war post ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday.
Ministers and scientific advisers are still encouraging people to don a mask in crowded spaces where the risk of Covid is higher – such as on trains or busy shops.
Adding to confusion, London Mayor Sadiq Khan this morning revealed that face coverings will still be compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis in the capital.
Dame Sarah told Good Morning Britain: ‘None of the protective measures are completely effective on their own and we get the best protection when we link up different ways of protecting ourselves.
‘So if we get everybody who is eligible for the vaccine to have the vaccine, if we wear a facemask indoors in crowded areas.
Professor Harnden told Times Radio: ‘We’ve looked at this data very carefully over the last few days and it is quite clear, from the AstraZeneca vaccine, there is absolutely no doubt the longer interval gives you much better protection.
‘But we concentrated on the Pfizer vaccine because of course that’s one that’s being given to younger people at the moment.
‘And it’s quite clear from antibody T cells studies that you get much lower response, and poorer quality memory response, with the shorter interval — that’s a four-week interval compared to an eight- to 12-week interval.
‘And the actual real data vaccine effectiveness studies show that there is a lower vaccine efficacy against symptomatic disease with shorter intervals compared to longer intervals.’
He added: ‘Then we got the modellers to look at this and, actually, the number of infections will rise if we reduce the dose.
‘We just don’t think there’s any good short, or longer term gain by shortening the interval.’
Scientists say spacing out doses leads to a better priming of the immune system to fight off the virus.
Originally, both AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s vaccines were approved to be dished out in three-week intervals because that was the gap tested in the research trials.
But No10’s scientists pushed the regimen back to 12 weeks to get wider protection in winter, when the second wave started to take off.
They said the decision would allow more people to get some immunity against the disease in the shortest period of time possible.
Two weeks ago, the JCVI recommended cutting the gap to eight weeks for everyone, in a bid to protect more people.
Health chiefs already fear the UK may be close to maximum vaccine uptake, with young people having been eligible for appointments for almost a month.
The roll-out has ground to fewer than 100,000 first doses a day, with the UK’s drive currently centered on ensuring millions get fully inoculated.
Young people — the last group to be inoculated — are less likely to get the jab than others because they see themselves as not at threat from the virus.
Ministers are hoping, however, that a double-jab requirement for holidays and to avoid self-isolation will bolster uptake.
Professor Harnden said uptake of jabs among younger age groups may increase if vaccines are more accessible and are backed by role models.
He added that the JCVI is ‘concerned’ about the uptake of first doses among younger age groups.
Asked whether the England team could be part of an advertising campaign, he said: ‘I think it’d be a brilliant idea — the England team have captured the whole country’s attention over the last four weeks.
‘And many of them, the young role models — I think it would be wonderful if they were able to contribute in some sort of way to encouraging young, particularly young men to be vaccinated.’
The JCVI has been asked to issue urgent advice on whether the pros and cons of slashing the gap between doses, the Sunday Times claimed. An announcement is expected within days.
Experts fear leaving young people only partially protected for longer amid a second wave could drive up rates of ‘long Covid’.
Public Health England evidence shows jabs cut the risk of infection by between 55 and 70 per cent after one dose, but that this rises to 65 to 90 per cent after two.