Lockdowns through the winter will be an “absolutely last resort”, the vaccines minister has told Sky News.
Nadhim Zahawi said the government will instead rely on vaccines to shift COVID-19 from pandemic to endemic status.
He told Sky News: “Lockdowns will be an absolutely last resort.
“What we’re trying to do at the moment is to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic through a massive vaccination programme.”
Mr Zahawi’s comments came ahead of Boris Johnson announcing a winter plan later today to fight COVID-19, including booster jabs and flu vaccinations.
And last night, the vaccines minister announced the government has approved a recommendation by UK medical officers to offer a single Pfizer vaccine to 12-15 year olds.
Mr Zahawi added: “Lockdowns were our only tool, that is no longer true.
“We have the vaccines, we have the test and trace system, we have the variant surveillance system, we have the public health advice that people of all ages have followed really really diligently, which has allowed us to take steps forward, to reopen our economy.
“And the booster campaign, with flu, will help us protect the most vulnerable as we transition.”
The booster scheme will mean a third vaccine dose for millions of older people to slow winter infections, with over-80s and vulnerable groups first in line, followed by all over-50s.
Analysis by Public Health England suggests two COVID vaccine doses has prevented 112,000 deaths and 24 million infections up to 27 August.
There has been controversy over offering the vaccine to 12-15 year olds as children will be able to have the final say over whether they receive it or not.
Concerns have also been raised about whether children are being given the vaccine to just protect adults.
Mr Zahawi said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) looked at the clinical impact on the 12-15 age group and decided being vaccinated is “marginally better” than not but “not enough to recommend” being double vaccinated.
He said the chief medical officers from all four UK nations looked at the other public health and mental health impacts on children – not the wider population – and unanimously agreed they should be offered one dose.