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15 February 2021

How the UK’s vaccine success has emboldened Boris Johnson’s lockdown critics

In defiance of Tory MPs, the Prime Minister is trying to unlearn his habit of over-promising and under-delivering. 

By Stephen Bush

More than 15 million people in Britain have now had their first shot of the coronavirus vaccine – and more importantly, the government is likely to have cleared the all-important first hurdle of offering a jab to everyone in the first four priority groups (that’s residents and staff in a care home for older adults, the over-80s and frontline health and social care workers, the over-75s, the over-70s and the extremely clinically vulnerable), a major step forward in curbing the deadliness of Covid-19.

It has emboldened the government’s internal critics to start cranking up their calls for a swift end to the lockdown on all fronts. You can expect an awful lot of that this week, as Westminster’s eye turns to 22 February, the day the Prime Minister will announce the government’s roadmap for easing lockdown. 

Where the lockdown critics have a point is this: even allowing for the need to give everyone who has received a first dose a second dose, the government’s target for vaccinating everyone under-50 is surprisingly unambitious: at current rates we could have that before the end of March, rather than the end of April as the current target suggests, particularly given the increased supply of vaccines. But it’s unquestionably better if the government is planning for the unforeseen – or a situation where we judge it more important to redirect vaccines elsewhere – rather than returning to its bad old habits of making big promises it struggles to keep.

That the year-long nightmare has a clearly defined end certainly shouldn’t blind us to the real mistakes made during it. But those mistakes also shouldn’t prevent us from celebrating a moment of genuine good news about vaccines. 

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