Half of all UK adults should have received a Covid-19 jab by the end of this week as vaccinations surge.
The news comes as British regulators today insisted blood clots are no more common in people given the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab as Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands became the latest countries to suspend it.
UK rollout had slowed but is expected to increase as manufacturing supplies ramp up again this week.
Meanwhile EU countries are lagging badly behind as German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch health ministries today announced the pause as a “precaution” while reports of blood clots are investigated.
Experts fear the “baffling” suspensions could fuel vaccine hesitancy and damage take-up, especially among younger adults.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said there was “no demonstrable difference” in the clot-risk among the 11 million Brits to have received a first dose.
Boris Johnson has said the UK’s medicines regulator sees “no reason to discontinue” the jab and insisted it was safe.
Asked directly if he could tell the public that the Oxford jab was safe, he said: “Yes, I can. In the MHRA we have one of the toughest and most experienced regulators in the world.
“They see no reason at all to discontinue the vaccination programme… for either of the vaccines that we’re currently using.
“They believe that they are highly effective in driving down not just hospitalisation but also serious disease and mortality.
“We continue to be very confident about the programme and it’s great to see it being rolled out at such speed across the UK.”
The European Medicines Agency is currently carrying out a review into the 30 reports but has said it should could continue to be administered. It will announce its recommendation on the jab tomorrow afternoon.
The EMA and World Health Organisation had said there was no evidence that the vaccine caused the blood clots.
Reports of clotting in Norway had also seen jabs paused in the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria, Iceland, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Thailand. Several other European countries including Austria have suspended the use of certain batches.
Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy JCVI chairman, said that if there were any concerns about the jab, then the UK public would be informed “straight away”.
He said: “We have to remember that there are 3,000 blood clots a month on average in the general population and because we’re immunising so many people, we are bound to see blood clots at the same time as the vaccination.
“That’s not because they are due to the vaccination. That’s because they occur naturally in the population.
“One ought to also remember that Covid causes blood clots. So, the risks of not having the Covid vaccination far outweigh the risks from the vaccinations.”
A further 257,000 got a first vaccine dose today taking the UK total to 24.5 million. Half of over-18s will have received a jab once the UK hits 26.5 million.
It came after 512,108 people got their first dose on Saturday – the second highest individual day total.
The NHS could be administering between four and five million doses a week by the end of March, a leaked letter from NHS leaders said. It puts the UK well ahead of the schedule to get every adult vaccinated by the end of July.
There were 64 more Covid-19 deaths reported yesterday(Mon) within 28 days of a positive test, bringing the UK total to 125,580. It is the lowest Monday total since October 12.
UK daily deaths have dropped off a cliff due to vaccinations after reaching a staggering 1,820 on January 20.
French President Emmanuel Macron today told a news conference that French authorities have decided to suspend Oxford vaccines until at least the EMA recommendation this afternoon.
He has previously faced criticism for wrongly claiming the AstraZeneca-manufactured jab was “quasi-ineffective” in the elderly amid a dispute over lack of supplies to the EU.
The German health authorities said they were investigating cases of blood clots in the brain but published no details.
The Dutch government said the suspension, which will last until at least 29 March, was in response to 10 cases of noteworthy adverse side effects.
The decisions came after talks today about the issue between EU governments.
About 17 million people in the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine, with less than 40 cases of blood clots reported as of last week, AstraZeneca said.
The UK has used more doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine than anywhere else and both officials and scientists say there is no sign that it causes serious health problems.
Side effects are normal, and around 53,000 have been officially reported across the UK so far, but the vast majority are mild and short-lived, such as headaches, muscle pains or fever.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which approved the vaccine in the UK, insists it is safe. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will continue to use the AstraZeneca jab – as per MHRA guidance.
Vaccine safety chief Dr Phil Bryan said: “We are closely reviewing reports but given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause.”
Experts warned it is reckless to stop using the vaccine and that the risk of catching Covid-19 – which kills around one in 200 people and is significantly more likely to cause blood clots – was much higher.
Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, top statistician from Cambridge University, said it could be doing “more harm than good”.
He said: “I’ve looked at the AstraZeneca reports and they’ve said that 17 million jabs across the EU and the UK (had been administered) and they’ve had about 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis and 22 cases of pulmonary embolism reported.
“Doing some sums, deep vein thrombosis happens to one in 1,000 people per year of all ages.
“So, out of those 17 million jabs, we would expect at least 17,000 of those people to get a deep vein thrombosis some time in the year.
“So that means that there will have been – and you can pretty well guarantee it – 350 people who have had an AstraZeneca jab then had a deep vein thrombosis in the week following that.”
Dr Michael Head, global health expert at the University of Southampton, said: “The decisions by France, Germany and other countries look baffling.
“The MHRA, WHO and also the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis have recommended continuing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine roll out.”
There were 5,089 new Covid-19 confirmed cases reported yesterday(Mon) bringing the UK total to 4,263,527.
As of Monday the total number of reported Covid-19 tests carried out in the UK since the start of the pandemic has passed 100 million.
It comes as new NHS documents suggest hospitals can consider redeploying staff who have refused to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
A new study published today found two doses of either the Pfizer or Oxford jabs offer similar protection against coronavirus as natural immunity after infection.