Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock reiterated the importance of continued vigilance, measures and development – alongside outlining where progress has been made in different areas.
Joined by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and NHS England Medical Director Professor Steve Powis, Mr Hancock said: “The start of our Covid-19 vaccination programme on Tuesday was the latest in a long line of firsts for the NHS.
“The NHS was the first health care system in the world to roll out the vaccines for other deadly diseases like TB, measles, mumps and rubella, and meningitis C.
“I’m so proud we can now add Covid-19 to that list.”
The speech came as the Health Secretary also announced an average number of new cases per day of 16,236 – having risen based on the previous week. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital across the UK did fall slightly to 15,242 patients, though there had still been 516 deaths reported the day before.
Speaking on vaccine deployment, Mr Hancock said: “The fall in the number of cases has flattened. In some parts of the country like Kent, Essex and some parts of London, it is rising.
“It shows us this fight is far from over and how we must all play our part and stay on our guard, now and through Christmas.
“We’ve got help on the horizon and we can all see that with the vaccine – so don’t blow it now. And of course, this shows why the deployment of a vaccine is so important.”
The Health Secretary thanked everyone involved in the vaccine rollout so far, which he praised for having “been done with such professionalism and skill”.
He explained that even despite the difficult circumstances in which the vaccine must be stored – kept in cold chain storage at -70C for most of its lifespan – the UK was vaccinating in 73 hospitals across the UK.
Tens of thousands of people have had the jab already.
A further 10 locations in England are set to join the current vaccination programme in the near future, with vaccinations also beginning in GP-led sites and care homes ahead of the Christmas period.
It was also still key that we work to protect the NHS. Mr Hancock explained: “Even with this mass vaccination programme, for the next few months, we will not have sufficient protection through the vaccination programme.
“This is always the most difficult time for the NHS anyway for the winter months.
“And with the number of cases flattening again, we’ve all got to do our bit and not put more pressure on the NHS. To do that, we must keep respecting the rules where we are and take those sensible steps that we can all take: washing our hands, covering our face and making space between people, respecting that social distancing and the rules that come with it.
“We can’t stop that now, just because the vaccine is here.
“And even if you’ve had the jab, you are not immune. The vaccine will not fully protect you until seven days after you’ve received the second dose and we don’t yet know if it will stop you from passing on the disease to other people.
“So, we all have to keep acting as if we still can pass it on. That is the safest way to get the number of cases down and keep people safe.”
The Health Secretary also made reference in his speech to further improvements to NHS Test and Trace, including its business-focused and additional support for those instructed to isolate by the Covid-19 app.