Over-65s will begin receiving letters inviting them to get COVID vaccines from early next week as part of the next phase of the UK’s vaccination programme, Sky News understands.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously set a deadline of Monday 15 February for offering a first dose of a vaccine to 15 million people in the four most vulnerable groups.
This includes older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and care staff, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
After the first four priority groups have been offered some protection, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended all those over 65 should be next in line for jabs.
Once over-65s have been invited, they will then be followed by all those over 16 with underlying health conditions, the over-60s, the over-55s and then the over-50s.
The government is aiming to offer a vaccine to all those first nine priority groups by May.
The JCVI is due to recommend which groups should be next in line for prioritisation for when the first nine groups – including all over 50s – have been offered jabs.
Some parts of England have already begun vaccinating the over-65s with their first dose after they reached everyone in the top four priority groups who wanted a jab.
Nottinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group is among those that has invited over-65s to receive a vaccine, while in Shropshire, Coventry and Hampshire some vaccines have been given already.
Some over-65s have been added to reserve lists, if others’ vaccine appointments are missed, or been given vaccines if there are unusued jabs at the end of the day.
NHS England said regions could now move on to people aged 65 and over if every effort has been made to contact and vaccinate those in groups one to four, and if there are supplies.
So far, just over 13.5 million people in the UK have received a first dose of a COVID vaccine, with nearly 525,000 having also had a second dose.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told Sky News on Friday that the government was “absolutely confident” of meeting their first vaccination target of offering jabs to the 15 million most vulnerable.
“That deadline of Monday is there and we will meet it,” she said.
The prime minister thanked NHS workers, Armed Forces personnel and volunteers after everyone in the first four priority groups was offered a vaccine in Wales.
“Every jab across the United Kingdom helps protect the vulnerable,” he posted on Twitter on Friday, as the first target in the vaccination programme was reached in Wales.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “To have achieved this first milestone and offered vaccination to everyone in the first four priority groups – those who are most vulnerable to coronavirus – is a truly phenomenal effort.
“I want to thank everyone who has been working around the clock to reach this point.
“Of course, the hard work has only just begun – there are many, many more people to vaccinate yet and a lot of second doses still to give.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she expects many in the 65-69 age group to have had their first vaccine by the middle of this month.
And in Northern Ireland, people aged 65-69 have been able to book a vaccine at seven regional centres since the end of January.