The government is “confident” everyone in the UK will get a second dose of the Covid vaccine within 12 weeks of their first, the culture secretary has said.
Questioned about the concerns over vaccine supply, Oliver Dowden said “we always knew there would be ups and downs” but the timetable was on track.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr it was “essential” to provide second doses and it would not require mixing vaccines.
Mr Dowden added that the Moderna jab was due to arrive in the UK in April.
It is the third vaccine of seven that the UK has put in an order for – and the UK is lined up to receive 17 million doses. Like the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs which are already in use, the Moderna jab is given in two doses several weeks apart.
So far, more than 29 million UK adults have received a first dose of either the Pfizer or the Oxford jabs, and more than three million of them have had a second – but vaccine supply issues have continued to make the rollout bumpy.
Amid tensions with the EU over the supply of jabs, France’s foreign minister also suggested the UK would struggle to source and supply second doses.
But speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Mr Dowden said: “We’re on track both with the rollout of the vaccine and the roadmap.
“You will have seen the ups and downs – we were surging ahead a couple of weeks ago, there’s been a bit of a slow-down now.
“But that doesn’t undermine our confidence that we will be able to deliver for that crucial group, the over-50s, by the middle of April and then for the rest of the adult population by the end of July.”
Asked whether there will be enough supply for everyone to get their second dose, Mr Dowden said: “That is absolutely essential and in all our planning throughout this, we have borne in mind that we have to get that second top-up and so we’re confident we will be able to deliver it.
He also said the government was confident that vaccination centres could meet the 12-week deadline on second doses without resorting to mixing of vaccines – giving a Oxford jab to someone who had Pfizer first time round or vice versa.
Mr Dowden also said people “still need to abide by the rules after Monday”, which is when lockdown rules are next eased in England.
From Monday, six people or two households are allowed to gather together outside and the “stay at home” rule will be lifted, which coincides with forecasts of warm and sunny weather in some areas.
In Wales, the “stay local” rule was lifted on Saturday and people were allowed to meet in groups of six outside.
But some experts have expressed hesitancy at the planned relaxation of rules.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, who sits on a group that feeds into the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he was “a little bit nervous” about the full relaxation planned for 21 June at the earliest.
“This is the particularly important thing: exactly how well are the vaccines performing? If they are going at this rate, I think we can get quite close to a full release.
“The idea that we can suddenly emerge from this in one great bound, I think, is a little over-optimistic.”
Mr Dowden defended the plan, saying it was “cautious” – and the five week gaps between each stage means the government has “four weeks to see the effect of the spread from the easing and then a week to prepare the rules”.
But some have been critical of the pace. Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of the scientific body the Royal Institution, said the UK has “gone from being cavalier to crippling caution” when it comes to handling Covid.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme: “If we are not now well prepared to put up with anything that’s thrown at us, then it’s God help all of us because that’s the best we can do at this point in time.”
It comes as a group of charities called for the UK to share its vaccines with poorer countries.
The UK, which has ordered 400 million vaccine doses and will have many left over if all of them do get approved for use, has said it will donate most of its surplus vaccine supply to poorer countries.
Mr Dowden told Sky News that the UK’s first priority was delivering vaccines to itself, adding: “We clearly don’t currently have a surplus of vaccines. Should we get to the point where we have a surplus of vaccines we’d make a decision on the allocation of that surplus.”