Wales is poised to become the first UK nation to have offered a Covid jab to everyone in the top four priority groups.
The first minister, Mark Drakeford, said everyone in the four groups would have received an invitation to have the first dose of the vaccine by the end of Friday, or at the latest over the weekend.
He said there were 740,000 people who fell within these categories in Wales, 689,000 of whom had received invitations by the end of Wednesday, with the figure certain to have surpassed 700,000 by the end of Thursday. Last month, Drakeford was forced to defend Wales’s vaccination programme after criticism of delays from opposition parties and doctors.
On Friday, he said there would only be “a very small number” in the top four priority groups who would not have had the vaccine by the weekend.
He told BBC News: “We’ve already completed 92% of all the people in those priority groups thanks to the amazing efforts of our NHS and other staff. There will be some people who were ill when they were first offered [the jab] who will need to be rebooked, there will be some people who chose not to have a vaccine when they were first offered who may have changed their minds.
“Our NHS has been making enormous efforts this week to contact anybody who we haven’t yet heard from, to make sure that if they want a vaccination they will get it either today or as I say, at the very latest, it’ll be completed at the weekend.”
Across the UK, there are 15 million people in the top four priority groups, drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI): care home residents, frontline health and social care workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and the over-70s. All UK nations were aiming to offer a first dose of the jab by the end of February.
Drakeford said there would be a small dip in the volume of the vaccine going to Wales before it increased again in March, when it would begin administering first doses of people in the next five priority groups, which encompasses residents aged 50 to 69 and everyone over 16 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality. In the meantime, he said over the next two weeks Wales would able to continue to provide second doses to all of those who have already been booked.
He said Wales remained “firmly on track” to complete the priority groups five to nine by the spring in line with the UK target of everyone over-50 to get their first jab by May.
“Because there are so many new variants that are happening in different parts of the world it could make a difference here in the United Kingdom but with vaccination, and with numbers falling, provided we reopen society, carefully and cautiously and don’t allow the virus to get away from us again, we can see a path into the spring, where it will be possible for us to go back to doing some of the things that we’re all missing so much,” said Drakeford.