Wales has become the first UK nation to have offered a Covid jab to everyone in the top four priority groups, the first minister, Mark Drakeford has announced.
Last month, Drakeford was forced to defend Wales’s vaccination programme after criticism of delays from opposition parties and doctors. But at a press conference on Friday, he said that 66 days after people in Wales first began getting the jab, the key target had been achieved.
“I’m incredibly proud to say that we have achieved the first milestone in our vaccination strategy,” he said. “And what that means is that we have offered vaccination to everyone in the first four priority groups – that’s everyone over 70, all frontline health and social care workers, everyone living and working in an old person’s care home and everyone who are [sic] clinically extremely vulnerable.
“Now this has been a phenomenal effort and it is thanks to the hard work of the thousands of NHS staff, volunteers and military personnel across Wales, who have been vaccinating people every day of the week.”
The latest figures, published on Friday, show that 715,944 people in Wales have received the first dose of the vaccine – more than one in five of the population. Drakeford said there were 740,000 people in Wales in the top four priority groups, which were drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
All UK nations were aiming to offer a first dose of the jab to people in the four groups – encompassing 15 million people across the UK – by 15 February.
Drakeford said there would be a small dip in the volume of the vaccine going to Wales before it increased again in March, when it would begin administering first doses of people in the next five priority groups, which encompasses residents aged 50 to 69 and everyone over 16 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.
In the meantime, he said, over the next two weeks Wales would be able to continue to provide second doses to all of those who had already been booked.
He said Wales remained “firmly on track” to complete the priority groups five to nine by the spring, in line with the UK target of everyone over 50 getting their first jab by May, and raised the prospect of easing restrictions in the near future.
He told reporters: “Provided we continue to see levels of infection fall in Wales and we see the impact on our health service being drained away and we see our vaccination programme delivering what we hope it will do in terms of protection it will offer it to people, if that is the path we are on, then the pattern in Wales, as we move towards the spring … we will be able, slowly and cautiously, [to] lift the restrictions that are currently in place in all aspects of our lives.
“That will include the tourism industry and it will include those aspects of family life which are denied to us all at the moment.”