The number of people getting the first dose of their Covid-19 jab will be restricted because of a drop in supplies available, health officials are warning.
Vaccination centres and pharmacy-led vaccination services have been told to close all unfilled bookings from 29 March and ensure no further appointments are booked for the whole of April.
The month-long appointments shut-down, caused by a drop in supplies from manufacturers, suggests the under-50s could have to wait until after April to be vaccinated, as health teams are being urged to focus on those over 50.
“The government’s vaccines task force have now notified us there will be a significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers beginning in week commencing 29 March, meaning volumes for first doses will be significantly constrained,” the letter states.
The cut will continue for four weeks, as a result of “reductions in national inbound vaccines supply”.
The letter, written by Emily Lawson, head of the vaccine deployment programme for NHS England, and Nikita Kanani, medical director for primary care, says those delivering vaccines are being asked to step up efforts to get everyone in the top nine priority groups vaccinated – people over 50.
Health secretary Matt Hancock played down the significance of the letter, insisting such information was routinely issued, saying: “Vaccine supply is always lumpy and we regularly send out letters on supply.”
Responding to comments by EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who had warned that the EU was ready to introduce emergency controls on vaccine production and distribution, he said: “We legally signed a contract to ensure 100 million doses for people in the UK.”
He said he fully expected contracts to be fulfilled, and promised the NHS would stick to its offer that everyone over 50 would be able to get a jab by 15 April.
And he added the NHS was on track for all adults to be able to get a jab by the end of July, denying that people under 50 would have to wait.
Most of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine supply destined for the UK is manufactured in Britain, although some comes from Belgium.
Statistics show 25.27 million people have now received their first dose of the vaccine.
The letter suggests that to ramp up doses given to the over-50s there should be dedicated sessions for groups with specific access requirements, extending visits to housebound patients and scheduling second or third care home visits.
“Our vaccination delivery programme was designed to be flexible, scaled up and diversified, in line with fluctuating international vaccine supplies,” the letter says.