Matt Hancock said that those aged 25 to 29 in England - around three million people - will now be able to book their jab as the NHS hailed reaching the “home straight” of the biggest vaccination programme in its history.
The under 30s are the final cohort on the vaccine priority list, with the government aiming to offer a first dose to all adults aged 18 and over by the end of July.
A ‘watershed moment’
With the vaccine rollout now entering its final stage six months on since the first jab was administered, the NHS described reaching the anniversary as a “watershed moment”.
As of 6 June, England has delivered 23,710,646 second doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, meaning the equivalent of 53.6 per cent of the adult population is now fully vaccinated, with 76.4 per cent of adults having received one dose.
In Wales, 49.5 per cent of its adult population is fully vaccinated, while 86.5 per cent have received their first jab.
A similar picture can be seen in Scotland with 50.6 per cent of adults now fully vaccinated, with 76.4 per cent having received a single dose, while 48.9 per cent of Northern Ireland’s adult population is fully vaccinated, with 71.5 per cent given one dose.
The aim to vaccinate all adults is well underway in Northern Ireland and Wales, with all adults having already been called up to receive their jab.
Meanwhile in Scotland, people aged 18 to 29 have been invited to register for their jab, with appointments starting in mid-June.
Mr Hancock said the highly transmissible Delta variant has “made the race between the virus and this vaccination effort tighter”, but the vaccine has helped to cut the number of infections and hospital admissions.
The variant, which originated in India, is thought to be 40 per cent more transmissible than the strain which originated in Kent, and as of 3 June, 12,383 cases of the Delta variant were recorded in England.
Of these cases, 464 went on to receive emergency care, while 126 people were admitted to hospital. A total of 83 of those admitted were unvaccinated, while 28 had received one dose and three were fully vaccinated.
Despite the rising rates, the Delta variant has not yet caused a significant rise in hospital cases, with the latest data showing that numbers have only increased slightly, with the seven-day average for hospital patients reaching 912 on 3 June - the highest since 26 May.
A possible delay to 21 June lifting of lockdown?
Almost three-quarters of local areas of the UK - 283 out of 380 - recorded a week-on-week rise in Covid-19 cases in the seven days to 2 June, which is the highest proportion since 6 January.
The rising rates has sparked concerns that the planned end of all lockdown restrictions in England on 21 June may be forced to be delayed until case rates reduce.
Downing Street has said the data emerging over the coming week will be “crucial” in deciding if the lockdown roadmap can proceed.
However, at the moment No10 has said there is “nothing in the data” to suggest a delay would be needed.
A decision on moving to the final stage of the lockdown roadmap will be delayed as long as possible, with a final announcement expected to be made on Monday 14 June, a week before any changes are due to come into effect.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the end of lockdown, Mr Hancock said he was confident that “one day soon freedom will return”, adding that the latest data suggests the vaccines are effective in protecting against the Delta variant.
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