Sadiq Khan has called on the government to be “nimble” in the vaccine rollout and offer jabs to younger people in areas of London where the new variant first detected in India is more prevalent.
The London mayor said he had asked both the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, for the “flexibility to give younger people the vaccine in those parts of London concerned about the strain”.
Health chiefs in Greater Manchester have already requested permission from government to vaccinate everyone over the age of 16 in Bolton where armed services personnel have been deployed to aid mass testing.
In some areas of Glasgow, where the Scottish government is in charge of the vaccine rollout, people living in “affected areas” between the ages of 18 and 39 are set to be offered a jab earlier than planned, possibly as soon as next week.
Mr Khan’s remarks come after the number of people who have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine passed the 20 million milestone — over 38 per cent of the adult population.
Last week, the NHS begun the process of inviting under 38-year-olds for a jab in the next stage of the rollout, with eligibility expected to be extended further again this week.
However, amid concern over the spread of the new variant first detected in India, the London mayor told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “roughly” 400 cases of the strain had been detected in the capital.
“We’re doing test and trace and we think roughly speaking 100 of them are involved in travel and what I’m saying to the government is there are five boroughs in particular where there are a number of these cases.”
He added: “What we’d like to see is the vaccine being accelerated in these areas with younger Londoners receiving the vaccine sooner than other parts of London because the early evidence… it does appear if you receive the vaccine, particularly both doses, you may be less likely to catch it, the spread is less so, but also the consequences should you test positive are less serious as well.”
In a separate interview with Sky News, the London mayor urged the government to be “nimble in those pockets where we know there is an issue, let’s use the vaccine sensibly”.
He suggested there should be a “hyper-local approach” in affected boroughs which should include “those who are younger, who would have to wait a few weeks, to have this vaccine now to avoid the strain spreading”.
But professor Adam Finn from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises government on the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, said that while he understood the mayor’s desire, added: “The two issues with that are that, first of all, we’re really not quite sure how well the vaccines will interrupt transmission, particularly for this new variant.
“We do know they protect people against getting sick and that’s something we can hold on to and use as a strategy.
“The other thing is, that after a first dose of these vaccines, it does take two/three weeks at least before that protection begins to emerge, so what you do now is not really going to have much influence over what happens over the next couple of weeks.
“So for those two reasons we do need to think strategically about what we do with the vaccine doses that we’ve got at the moment over the next two weeks right around the country, in order to minimise the chances of this new variant causing a very major third wave.”