The majority of older people have been fully vaccinated, while daily Covid-19 deaths have dropped below those from road accidents, new figures show.
More than 10 million people – including three quarters of over 75s – have now had both doses, in a milestone which the Prime Minister hailed as “remarkable”.
On Monday, MPs urged the Government to go faster in releasing Britain from lockdown, accusing ministers of following “dates not data”. Boris Johnson said the vaccines milestone achievement was “fantastic”.
“This is another remarkable milestone in our vaccination programme, which has already saved thousands of lives,” he said.
The figures show that across the UK, almost 33 million people have had their first dose of the vaccine, while more than 10 million have had a second.
One in five adults have had two doses, including three in four of those aged 75 and over, and four in five of those aged 80 and over.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said uptake of the jabs had been “astonishingly high”, urging all those eligible to come forward when offered their second dose.
Amid growing concern about the threat from new variants – and an announcement that India will be placed on the travel “red list” as cases surge – Mr Hancock confirmed plans to roll out a third booster jab this autumn.
The Health Secretary said the Government is “ramping up” plans for booster shots to ensure the Covid-19 vaccines “stay ahead of the virus”, by designing new vaccines specifically targeted at variants of concern, such as that first found in South Africa.
He told MPs: “Our goal is to ensure the vaccine protects against this dreadful disease, whatever it throws at us, to keep us safe and to protect our much-cherished return to normal way of life.”
Booster shots could be expected annually, in the same way that the flu vaccines are given, he said.
The Health Secretary told the Commons: “This virus is diminished but not defeated. Cases, hospitalisations and deaths are back to the levels we saw in September.
“Throughout the crisis we’ve protected the NHS and there are now 2,186 people in hospital with Covid across the UK, down 94 per cent from the peak. And the average number of daily deaths is 25, down 98 per cent.”
“Because of this brighter picture, we’ve been able to take a step two on our roadmap, and it is brilliant to see the high streets, bustling with life once again,” Mr Hancock said, saying that “step by step we are returning this country towards normal life”.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “The success of the NHS vaccination programme is not a happy accident. It is down to careful planning coupled with the sheer hard work and determination of doctors, nurses and countless other staff ably assisted by volunteers and many others.”
It came as the UK recorded four deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the lowest daily figure since 7 September, although Monday figures tend to dip because of recording delays.
By comparison, the UK records an average of around five deaths from road accidents daily, figures from the Department for Transport show.
A number of Tory MPs have questioned why the route out of lockdown could not be accelerated.
Mr Hancock said it was too early to see the impact of the “significant” reopening last week, including the return of outdoor trade for pubs and restaurants.
“We want to see the impact of the data before taking the next step, so that we can have confidence that this is an irreversible path,” he told MPs.
Pauline Latham, Tory MP for Mid-Derbyshire, urged the Government to allow pubs and restaurants to return to more normal functioning, and indoor service.
She said: “We’ve been told regularly, that we are following the data, not the dates, but sadly, it seems to be the other way around … in Derbyshire there are huge swathes of villages and towns, that have no Covid whatsoever, and that’s repeated over all sorts of areas of the country.”
“We do need to start getting businesses back to normal. We need to get hospitality businesses fully functioning, and using their indoor spaces,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, called on the Health Secretary to confirm that Britain would be “broadly back to normal” from June 21, without social distancing, given the figures showing the success of the vaccine rollout.
Mr Hancock said it was his “hope” that normal life would resume, but said some people would choose to wear masks for some time to come.
Dr Liam Fox MP urged the Health Secretary to ensure that the debate about new variants remains “rational,” telling the Commons: “There will be an unavoidable level of risk that we will have to get used to post-pandemic, unless we become a perpetually frightened, introspective nation, the opposite of global Britain.”