More than 6,200 people were vaccinated in Bolton at the weekend amid concerns over the Indian Covid-19 variant.
The town has seen a sharp spike in infections since mid-April and the B.1.617.2 variant now makes up the majority of new cases.
Prior to the push, about 10,000 people in the highest priority groups were yet to be vaccinated.
Dr Helen Wall, who is leading the town’s vaccine rollout, said it had been “emotional” to see.
She said many who had been eligible for some time came for a jab over the last two days and she now hoped the programme had “made a big dent” in the list of outstanding eligible residents.
Bolton recorded 733 new cases of Covid-19 in the seven days to 11 May – the highest anywhere in the UK, the latest data shows.
However, the rate of new cases among people in the town aged 60 and over is just 59.9, up from 35.3 a week earlier.
By contrast, the rate for those aged 10-19 in Bolton currently stands at 486.2 per 100,000, up sharply from 200.7 one week earlier, while for those aged 20-29 the rate has jumped from 147.9 to 310.
The efforts to get everyone eligible vaccinated saw long queues form at vaccination hubs.
BBC presenter and comedian Paddy McGuinness shared a video of the queues in his “strong” hometown on social media.
My mate just sent me this vid of the queues in Bolton for a vaccination. I flew the nest almost 6 years ago but all my friends and family are still there, along with my heart and soul. It’s a strong town and I’ve no doubt they’ll get on top of this. C’mon Bolton! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/qEwRg7A426
— Paddy McGuinness 💙 (@PaddyMcGuinness) May 16, 2021
Despite the concerns over the Indian variant, the easing of lockdown rules has gone ahead as planned in England.
The easing allows people to socialise indoors in limited numbers, hug loved ones and visit pubs and restaurants inside.
Alex McVey, who runs Odessa cafe in Bolton, said trade had been OK since reopening at 7:00 BST but, due to Covid measures, he had reduced the number of seats from 72 to 22.
“It has been a lot different this morning. It has taken ages and ages to get set up and everything in place,” he said.
Mr McVey, who has been forced to make four members of staff redundant during the pandemic, said he was “a little bit nervous” about the reopening but remained hopeful.
In Bolton, a big push to get more people vaccinated is bearing fruit.
Health officials are targeting about 10,000 people who are eligible but have yet to come forward, but know that take-up of the vaccine in some parts of the town is lower than the national average.
And they reject the charge that they are flouting the national rules on who can get a jab.
In February, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – which sets the guidelines for the UK’s vaccination roll-out – announced factors other than just health and age could be taken into account.
So deprivation, ethnicity and living in a multi-generational household with older, vulnerable relatives could mean that younger people are eligible.
This is not bending the rules, local leaders say. Rather, it is exactly what the rules are for.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that a local lockdown in Bolton had not been ruled out due to a rise in cases.
He added that the “vast majority” of locals who had been hospitalised in recent days had not taken up the offer of a vaccine.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Dr Wall said the vaccination hubs were “seeing people coming forward that clearly had the option to have the jab for some time – older people, disabled people – and they’ve chosen to come forward now”.
“I think in part that’s because we brought this into the community as a trusted place, but also the things that are going on in Bolton are quite worrying for people,” she said.
“I think that’s given some push to people coming forward now for the vaccine.”
Surge testing has already begun in other areas of north-west England where cases involving the Indian variant are on the rise.
The “variant of concern” has also been detected in Blackburn, Lancashire, which neighbours Bolton, and in Sefton on Merseyside.
Blackburn with Darwen’s public health director said everyone over-18 should book a Covid vaccination in the area.
But the prime minister’s official spokesman said local areas should not vaccinate young people earlier than planned to stem the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus.
He told a Westminster briefing the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had said the best way to protect against the new variant was to ensure vulnerable groups got their second dose of the vaccine.
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