Covid-19: New push for under-50s to take up jab offers

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image copyrightLiam McBurney
image captionThe "smiles, laughs, nerves, and sighs of relief" of the vaccine programme were documented as part of the campaign to encourage uptake

A new campaign is being launched to encourage younger people to get the Covid vaccine when their turn comes.

The Department of Health has released a series of photos documenting the NHS's largest-ever vaccination programme.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 45.5 million doses had been administered so far, but "the battle is not yet over".

More than half the entire UK population - 33.5 million people - have now received a first dose, while more than 12 million people have had two doses.

On Monday lockdown restrictions will ease further in Wales and Scotland. Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors in Wales, while in Scotland all non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants can reopen, with up to six people from two households allowed to socialise indoors in a public place.

The UK recorded another 2,061 confirmed cases on Saturday and a further 32 deaths.

The latest campaign aims to encourage under-50s to take the vaccine, following research that suggests younger people are more likely to be hesitant.

In England those aged 45 or over are already being invited to book an appointment, while in Scotland this applies to those aged 50 or over.

Northern Ireland has now opened bookings for the 35 to 39 age group and one health board in Wales is offering the vaccine to those aged 30 to 39 - although most are still vaccinating people in their 40s and 50s.

image copyrightJude Palmer
image captionAlice Tooley says she hopes other young people will "jump at" the chance to get vaccinated

Although 94% of all adults in the most recent survey by the Office for National Statistics felt positively about the vaccines, about one in eight 16 to 29-year-olds said they were hesitant, the highest such finding among all age groups.

Vaccine hesitancy is also higher among black people and people in more deprived areas, although the numbers saying they are hesitant has been falling in every group, the survey suggested.

Among the people caught on camera in the photo project was 25-year-old Alice Tooley, who was vaccinated early in the rollout because of her frontline work with vulnerable adults for a refugee charity.

image copyrightJude Palmer
image captionDozens of sites across the country have been used as vaccine centres, including Salisbury Cathedral

As younger people get invited to have their jab, she said: "I hope they jump at it the way I did so, as a collective, we all play our part in getting back to a more normal way of life."

Documentary photographers and filmmakers set out across the UK in February and March to capture the immunisation programme in action, travelling to hospitals, mobile vaccination units, care homes and some of the more unusual vaccination sites such as Salisbury Cathedral and the Science Museum in London.

Photojournalist Jude Palmer said it had been a privilege to document the "smiles, laughs, nerves, and sighs of relief as we get one step closer to a more normal way of life".

Among the people they photographed was Dr Gavin Chestnutt, a GP at Ballycastle Medical Practice, who took his vaccine supplies on the ferry to Rathlin Island - Northern Ireland's most northerly point - to immunise the community there and ensure the elderly population did not have to travel in bad weather.

image copyrightLiam McBurney
image captionVaccinators have travelled to the UK's remote corners, such as Rathlin Island off County Antrim, to deliver millions of doses

Dr Chestnutt, who is also a part-time farmer, was photographed vaccinating a 92-year-old man in his back garden, looking out over the coastline.

The 42-year-old said it had been an honour to witness people's "physical relief" as they were protected from Covid-19.

"Most overwhelming has been to see how grateful everyone has been for getting their vaccine and finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel," he added.

Meanwhile, 8,000 football supporters will be at Wembley later for the Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham - the biggest attendance at an outdoor sports event since the first lockdown in March last year.

The game is part of the government's official test programme to work out the best way for big crowds to return to venues.

It comes as 22 anti-lockdown scientists and academics have written an open letter calling for face masks and social distancing to end in June.

The letter, published in full on the Daily Express website, says more weight should be given to the success of the vaccines and less to what it calls the "theoretical" risk of new variants or a new surge in infections.

It also urges the government to scrap plans for vaccine passports, along with mass community testing in favour of a more targeted approach.

The government has already announced it hopes to end all legal limits on social contact in England on 21 June at the earliest and the prime minister has said there is nothing in the data to suggest this will not be the case.

But some scientists have suggested people could still be asked to wear face coverings and socially distance for several years as other countries are yet to complete their vaccination programmes.

BBC health correspondent Katharine Da Costa says many of the signatories to the letter had previously called for lockdowns to be abolished in favour of shielding the vulnerable, a strategy strongly criticised by the wider scientific community.

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