Not a single person over the age of 80 in Kent has tested positive for Covid in the last week, new figures reveal.
With the vaccination programme gathering pace, almost 80% of new cases in the county are now being seen in the under-50s – those deemed less likely to fall seriously ill with the virus.
But the emergence of the Indian variant across the UK has sparked fears that the lifting of lockdown next month could be stalled.
Doctors in Kent are expecting to administer thousands of second doses over the next week after they were urged to bring forward the dates for patients in the top nine priority groups.
Herne Bay GP Dr Jeremy Carter told KentOnline: “The real-world data is confirming that these vaccines are really effective.
"The people becoming infected tend to be those who haven’t been vaccinated.
"We have been asked to accelerate second doses from 11 weeks down to an eight-week interval because of the Indian variant.
“Over the weekend we will run a catch-up programme with nearly 3,000 second doses.”
In the week up to May 13 there were 148 new cases recorded in Kent.
The age group accounting for most were those aged 30-39, with 31 positive tests, followed by 10-19, with 29.
Just 18 cases were recorded in those aged 60 and above, and none at all in the over-80s, as the county's infection rate remains at its lowest level since September.
Dr Carter says doctors in the town have continued to see a sharp fall in positive cases.
The county’s hospitals have also remained virtually free of Covid patients, with almost one million people in Kent having had at least one jab.
“Although the variant is causing large numbers, it’s not causing proportionally the same number of hospital admissions because the people catching it are younger and less likely to get it severely."
And in Whitstable, medics are now inviting all patients in their 30s to book their first jab.
Town GP Dr John Ribchester said: “As is the national programme, we’ve brought forward people’s second vaccines from an 11-week interval to eight weeks.
“It’s mainly the middle-aged cohorts who we’re asking to come in earlier.
“Although the variant is causing large numbers, it’s not causing proportionally the same number of hospital admissions because the people catching it are younger and less likely to get it severely.
“Nevertheless, we don’t want it circulating in any cohort in the community, so it’s a race to try to get the under-30s vaccinated, which we’re not allowed to do yet, before the numbers get high again.”
Dr Ribchester says vaccine supplies have improved enormously since April, with about 3,600 people set to be given injections in the next seven days.
To track the spread of the Indian strain more quickly, scientists have been testing positive Covid samples for the S gene, which is present in the new variant and not in the Kent mutation.
Of almost 400 national cases found to have the S gene this month, 93% were determined to be the Indian strain.
In the week up to May 8 there were 250 positive Covid cases across Kent.
Of these, 80 samples were sent for testing, with 20 shown to have the S gene.
Nine of these were in Canterbury – the highest of anywhere in the south east.
Just 10 samples from the district were tested, with the 90% “strike rate” suggesting the variant is already the most dominant in Canterbury.
Elsewhere in Kent, the S gene was detected in samples in Dartford (4), Ashford (2), Tunbridge Wells (2), Maidstone (1), Folkestone and Hythe (1), and Sevenoaks (1).
But the numbers are much smaller than those found in the north west, where Bolton (350), Blackburn (110) and Sefton (105) top the national table.
“The concern surrounding the Indian variant mainly involves those populations of people refusing to have vaccines, which mercifully is not in Whitstable,” Dr Ribchester added.
“The higher the vaccine uptake, the smaller the issue is.”
In Kent, almost 981,000 people - 68% of all adults - have now had at least one dose, while 608,262 (42%) are fully vaccinated.
The county's infection rate is also the lowest it has been since September, and on May 11 just eight people in Kent's hospitals had Covid – a tiny fraction of the 1,218 coronavirus patients on January 4.
Just two Covid deaths have been recorded in the county in May. In January, there were 1,456.