LONDON: The UK government on Monday said it has hit a "crucial milestone" in its COVID-19 vaccination programme, with figures indicating that residents at every eligible care home with older residents across England now administered a life-saving jab.
The National Health Service (NHS) said nurses, general practitioners (GPs) and other NHS staff have offered the life-saving jab to people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents, with only a small remainder have had their visits deferred by local directors of public health for safety reasons during a local outbreak.
Those homes will be visited and jabbed as soon as NHS staff are allowed to do so.
"Today marks a crucial milestone in our ongoing race to vaccinate the most vulnerable against this deadly disease.
We said we would prioritise and protect care home residents, and that is exactly what we have done," said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
"There will be difficult moments to come, and the number of cases and people in hospital remains dangerously high.
But vaccines are our route out of the pandemic, and having protected 8.9 million people with a first dose so far, our rollout programme will only accelerate from here on," he said.
Ian Turner, Executive Chair of the Registered Nursing Home Association, quoted Mahatma Gandhi in reference to the major rollout drive to protect the elderly from the deadly virus.
"As Mahatma Gandhi said the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable', and the pandemic has brought that quotation to the fore," he said.
The NHS said that vaccination staff are now returning to homes that have been covered to jab any resident who was unable to have it during the previous visit because they had recently had COVID-19 or for other clinical reasons.
"It has been a privilege to vaccinate some of the most vulnerable people and the wonderful people who look after them.
Many have had little contact with the outside world throughout the pandemic and so it has been truly humbling for all, giving them hope and importantly protection against the disease," said Dr Nikki Kanani, a practising GP and NHS England's primary care director.
"I would urge anyone who is offered the vaccine to come forward," she said.
The UK's Joint Committee of Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI), which set the priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccines, made older adult care home residents and their staff high priority groups due to being at particular risk from COVID-19 because of their age and frailty.
NHS England offered GPs up to GBP 30 extra to vaccinate care home residents in January to cover the increased time and logistics required in bringing the vaccine to care homes.
"Our priority has been to protect care home residents throughout this pandemic, and I'm delighted we have reached this monumental milestone to protect the most at risk," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"We cannot be complacent, and it is absolutely imperative everyone continues to play their part by staying home and protecting the NHS while the rollout continues," he warned.
According to the NHS, which is conducting the biggest programme of its kind in its history, vaccinations are now being administered at more than 250 hospitals, over 1,000 GP-led services, 117 high street pharmacies and 47 large-scale vaccination centres across the country with more coming online over the coming days and weeks.
"With over 2 million more people vaccinated in communities across England this past week, the NHS's COVID-19 vaccination campaign is off to a flying start -- with nearly nine out of ten people aged 80 and above, and over three quarters of people aged 75 and over, now having had their first jab," said Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive.
UK Care Minister Helen Whately said the government is working "on what we can do to try and enable visiting to restart" in care homes to enable families to be reunited.
The NHS is currently administering the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs, with three other jabs by Moderna, Novavax and Janssen also expected to come into the system in the coming months.
For care homes, it has largely been the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs being delivered due to the logistics of easier mobility and storage requirements.
The UK government has set a target to vaccinate care home residents and carers, people over 70 and frontline care workers by February 15.
Meanwhile, a further 587 virus-related deaths were reported on Sunday, which takes the UK's COVID-19 death toll to 106,158 as the country remains under a strict 'stay-at-home' lockdown to keep control over a very high infection rate.