The controversy swirled as the U.S. reported that half of all seniors have now been vaccinated

The Midlands has the highest vaccination rate in England and the South West the lowest, new NHS England data reveals.

Data shows 117,909 people had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, taking the UK’s total to 33,257,651.

The new numbers mean that 95% of over-50s in England have been vaccinated, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock promising that: “We’re on track to offer a vaccine to all adults by the end of July.”

It comes as the UK reported a further 18 coronavirus-related deaths and 2,729 new cases in the latest 24-hour period.

Thursday’s figures compare with Wednesday’s 22 deaths and 2,396 new infections and last Thursday’s 30 deaths and 2,672 cases.

It brings the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 4,398,431 and total number of deaths to 127,345.

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The row over Boris Johnson’s text messages with businessman Sir James Dyson about ventilator production earlier in the pandemic dominated Prime Minister’s Questions. After it was revealed Mr Johnson promised to “fix” tax changes for Dyson, the prime minister said he made “absolutely no apology at all for shifting heaven and earth” to obtain ventilators – although in the end the company was not called upon to supply any. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was part of a pattern of “sleaze” with “one rule for those who have the prime minister’s phone number and another for everybody else”. Sir James told the BBC that his company spent £20m on development costs and derived no benefit from the ventilator project. He said his text messages with the prime minister were an effort to seek “compliance” with tax rules.

Rushmoor in Hampshire and Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, Worcester, and South Oxfordshire have all vaccinated 100% of the over-50s, the new figures reveal.

While the Isles of Scilly and Hertsmere in Hertfordshire have vaccinated the most under-49s, with 70.4% and 46.3% jabbed respectively.

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The lowest vaccination rates among the over-50s are all in London, with boroughs in the capital making up the bottom 19.

London has also vaccinated the least under-49s nationwide, with Canterbury, Kent, the next lowest (23.8%), followed by Nottingham (23.9%).

With many adults still not vaccinated, the UK remains “vulnerable” and may well likely to see a “summer surge” in cases as restrictions are eased, a government scientist has warned. Prof Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said the dates for opening up society may need to be adjusted as a result. But he said the size of the rise in cases would depend on the progress in vaccination as well as people’s behaviour. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also warned that most scientists believe there will be a third wave of infections, but he said he has seen nothing so far that would mean the next step in easing coronavirus rules cannot go ahead.

Hairdresser Sinead Quinn previously made headlines for putting a sign in her window declaring that Article 61 of Magna Carta allowed her to opt out of coronavirus regulations and open her shop near Bradford during lockdown. Now she is being taken to court over £17,000 of fines, with Kirklees Council saying she has not paid anything after repeated breaches. Ms Quinn could face an unlimited fine if she is found guilty. She has previously said on social media that she does not “consent” to Covid regulations.

At least 22 Covid-19 patients have died in a hospital in India after an oxygen leak meant ventilators had no supply for 30 minutes. The accident at the Zakir Hussain hospital in Nashik took place in one of the worse-affected of India’s states, as the nation struggles with more than 200,000 infections a day. The hospital had called in tankers after it began to run out of oxygen, but it is not clear how the accident happened while the storage tank was being refilled. Many Indian cities are facing a drastic shortage of hospital beds and struggles over supplies of oxygen and drugs.
As COVID-19 cases creep up again across the country, federal officials and epidemiologists say they’re worried we could hit another tipping point, leading to a fourth significant surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“We’re skating on a knife’s edge right now,” said Nicholas Reich, a biostatistician at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Average daily reported cases are up 10% compared to a week earlier, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, with more than 30 million COVID-19 cases reported since early last year. Hospitalizations and deaths, which usually lag cases by a few weeks, have inched upward as well, after a decline and plateau that began in early January.

Reich and others say they expect that the immunity from natural infections plus the successful rollout of vaccines, which are now reaching nearly 3 million people a day, will help moderate this surge.

But Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said in a White House briefing with media Monday that she’s anxious about what the next few weeks could bring.

“Right now I’m scared,” she said in what she described as an off-script moment of candor.

The vaccine rollout is giving people hope and the spring weather is making everyone even more restless, she acknowledged, but it’s too soon for Americans to let down their guard, return to travel and stop using the precautions – such as mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing – that are known to be protective.

She said she was speaking not just as CDC director, but as a wife, daughter, mother, and doctor.

“I know what it’s like as a physician to stand in that patient room – gowned, gloved, masked, shielded – and to be the last person to touch someone else’s loved one because their loved one couldn’t be there,” she said. “And I know what it’s like to pull up to your hospital every day and see the extra morgue sitting outside.”

A race against COVID-19 variants
President Joe Biden reiterated Walensky’s sentiments in a news conference Monday afternoon and called on governors and mayors to continue or renew COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates.

“The war against COVID-19 is far from won. This is deadly serious,” he said. “We could still see a setback in the vaccination program. And most importantly, if we let our guard down now, we could see a virus getting worse, not better.”

Although roughly 30% of American adults have been vaccinated so far, only 16% are fully protected, and many more remain vulnerable.

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“We have to give more shots in April than we did in March because we’re in the life-and-death-race for the virus that is spreading quickly with cases rising again,” Biden said. “New variants are spreading. And, sadly, some of the reckless behavior we’ve seen on television over the past few weeks means that more new cases are to come in the weeks ahead.”

New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are changing the fight, said Eric Feigl-Ding an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

The vaccines are designed to combat – and are very effective against – the virus that circulated in the U.S. last year.

But as new variants that originated in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil and even New York take over, some are making the virus more contagious – which makes careful mask-wearing even more important – and some are making the vaccines less protective, he said.

A surge of more infectious variants now could reach people before they’ve had a chance to be vaccinated, Feigl-Ding said. One variant originally identified in Brazil is 2 to 2.5 times more transmissible; another seen in South Africa, may be able to reinfect people who were infected only a few months ago.

Still, he’s hopeful that the fast rollout of vaccines will be able to control the spread.

“I think the fourth wave is upon us,” he said, “but I think the vaccine will hold it back.”

‘So tantalizingly close to being … safer’
Someday soon, vaccinations and lower case counts will allow Americans to resume traveling, socializing in groups and many other things, Walensky said. But not yet.

“I’m asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” she said.

Walensky did not specify how much longer she thinks people need to remain cautious.

Reich said he thinks just another few weeks could do it.

Unlike the surge of a year ago when few people had ever seen COVID-19, at least 30 million Americans – and by some estimates as many as three times more – have been infected with the virus and built up at least some protection against it.

Vaccination is expected to be even more protective than natural immunity and to prevent nearly all hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC and now president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative aimed at preventing epidemics and heart disease.

‘You can’t trust the government’:Spanish-speaking social media spreads COVID-19 vaccine disinformation, adds to hesitancy

Although he sees the next month or two as problematic, Frieden said people don’t need to put their entire lives on hold. They should feel free to go outside and go to stores – masked up. People enjoying a beach day aren’t a problem; it’s the bars they go to afterward where the virus gets transmitted, he said.

But to really beat this pandemic, people should get vaccinated as soon as possible, continue to limit their travel and minimize the number of people they share indoor air with for a few more months, he said.

“What’s so frustrating about this is that we’re so tantalizingly close to being so much safer,” he said. “By summer, it’s going to be so much better. By fall we will be at the new reality unless some horrible variant takes over – I can’t guarantee that won’t happen – but like three months, folks. Just keep a lid on it for three months and we can prevent a lot of deaths.”

Contact Karen Weintraub at

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

The U.S. and a dozen other countries issued a rare joint statement on Tuesday questioning the validity of a World Health Organization study into the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, and has now killed almost 2.8 million people across the globe.

“We support a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, we join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China,” reads the statement, which was issued by the U.S. State Department in coordination with a raft of other governments, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The controversy swirled as the U.S. reported that half of all seniors have now been vaccinated. “Vaccination milestone,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, White House senior COVID adviser. “50% of all seniors have now been fully vaccinated.”

The statement included strong support for the WHO and did not directly blame China for interfering with the scientific probe. But it said health experts were delayed in studying the origins of the virus and that even when granted access, they were denied “complete, original data and samples.”

“The mission of the WHO is critical to advancing global health and health security,” the statement said.”Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.”

The WHO’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also highlighted China’s lack of cooperation.

“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” he said. “Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”

– Deirdre Shesgreen

►German health officials recommended restricting the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in people under 60, amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots. Canada suspended use of the vaccine among people under 55.

►The University of Connecticut football team cut its spring practices short because of positive COVID-19 test results and subsequent contact tracing protocols, the Hartford Courant reported. The Huskies were one of a small number of FBS teams to opt out of the 2020-21 season.

►German health officials recommended restricting the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in people under 60, amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots. Canada suspended use of the vaccine among people under 55.

►The University of Connecticut football team cut its spring practices short because of positive COVID-19 test results and subsequent contact tracing protocols, the Hartford Courant reported. The Huskies were one of a small number of FBS teams to opt out of the 2020-21 season.