COVID jabs will be diverted back to the over-80s in vaccine blackspots – just a day after the over-70s were invited for the jab.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to send supplies to places which are lagging behind on the national roll-out amid fears of a vaccine "postcode lottery".
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He told a No10 briefing last night: "We're prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s."
It comes just a day after GPs were told to start administering jabs to millions of over-70s and "extremely vulnerable" group.
But the Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, sparked concern yesterday when he suggested the younger group would get jabs before the more vulnerable over 80s.
He said: “In those areas who have vaccinated majority of over 80s – some areas are at 90 per cent – they are now sending out letters to over 70s and clinically extremely vulnerable."
We're prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s
With some areas rolling out vaccines at a faster pace, it means the most at-risk Brits in parts of the country the slowest at rolling out the vaccine are being kept waiting.
The Midlands and The North East and Yorkshire have dished out around 50 per cent more vaccines than London and the East of England, figures show.
One Tory MP told Politico that areas such as the North East are supposedly administering vaccines quicker than places such as London and Kent.
While the Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey raised concerns that in her constituency in Suffolk, some over 70s have been invited for a jab before those over 80.
Mr Hancock acknowledged that some areas of the country had made better progress than others but said they were putting more supplies of the vaccine into those that were falling behind.
"What we're doing now is making sure that whilst they, of course, will be able to move onto the next group, we're prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s," he said.
"But we don't want to stop the areas that have effectively done that job already, we want them to carry on, but the priority of the vaccine is according to the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) prioritisation list.
"The critical thing is to make sure that everybody can get it, that we're putting more supply into the areas that have got more to do."
He highlighted that Slough had managed to vaccinate all care home residents and would now be moving onto the next stage.
Mr Hancock said there should be a "national debate" on which groups should be prioritised for the vaccine once the over-50s have received the jab.
"After that it is essentially about protecting people as well as possible according to essentially a judgment who should come next", he added.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis today said the "vast majority" of the over-80s and care home residents should be vaccinated before areas move on to lower priority groups.
He told Sky News: "Different local areas will look at their local needs and how they're moving through that and the decisions they make, but we're supplying everybody on an equal basis to ensure that people across the country get the vaccinations in good time.
"We're very clear that the areas should be going through and treating the people and only moving on to the second cohort when the vast majority of the first cohort have been vaccinated."
He said there will be a "bit of an overlap" in order to avoid a risk of a "gap and a pause" when moving between groups.
Asked about some of the oldest patients in some areas having not received their coronavirus jab yet, when the Government had given the go-ahead to start vaccinating the next priority group, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said "there will be an overlap".
He told LBC: "We're very clear that areas should be getting through the majority of the first cohort before they move on to the second cohort, but there will be an overlap.
"The reality is as you're moving through these, as you start to bring the second cohort in, there will be a bit of an overlap.
We're very clear that areas should be getting through the majority of the first cohort before they move on to the second cohort, but there will be an overlap
"So while they're still finishing cohort one some people from the second cohort will be having their vaccines and being contacted.
"That's understandable because the other alternative is you get through cohort one and you pause before you can start getting cohort two in and that would be wrong."
He added: "In order to keep things flowing and moving we will see some overlap, but areas should be getting through the majority of cohort one before they start moving to cohort two."
As the number of first doses delivered in the UK passed four million, ministers and officials said it was still too soon to rely on the jab "coming to our rescue".
The warning came as the latest official figures showed there was a record 37,475 people in hospital with the disease across the UK.
As the pressure continues to mount, the NHS Confederation has said the health service could reach its limit for critical care beds this week.
Northern Ireland's health minister Robin Swann said "real intense pressure" is expected on inpatient and intensive care units in the next seven days.
Meanwhile scientists advising the Government have warned there is a danger that people could start relaxing their guard as the vaccine started to become available.
The latest minutes of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), released last week, called for close monitoring of the situation with a system of "rapid alerts" if adherence to the rules begins to fall off.
"There is a risk that changes in behaviour could offset the benefits of vaccination, particularly in the early months of vaccine rollout," it said.
The Government says it is on track to vaccinate around 15 million high-priority people across the UK by February 15, including frontline health and social care staff, the over 70s and people in care homes.
Once those vaccines have taken effect, around two to three weeks later ministers will consider whether lockdown measures can be eased in England.
Despite pressure from Tory MPs to move as quickly as possible, Boris Johnson has warned there will be no "open sesame" moment when restrictions will all be lifted together.
Speaking during visit to a manufacturing facility for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, the Prime Minister said the UK was still in a "pretty precarious" position and that any loosening would be gradual.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "hopeful" that all adults in Scotland would have been given their first dose of coronavirus vaccine by September.
Wales has faced criticism in the past week for vaccinating fewer people in proportion to its population than the other home nations.
As of Saturday, four per cent of the population in Wales had been vaccinated, compared with 4.1 per cent in Scotland, 5.9 per cent in England and 7.4 per cent in Northern Ireland.
First Minister Mark Drakeford dismissed the statistics as "very marginal differences" and insisted Wales was "on track" to vaccinate the top four priority groups by the middle of February, with almost 152,000 having received their first injection.
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