The government’s “decision to have 12 weeks between the two doses has saved around 12,000 lives”, Matt Hancock said this week.

He said the finding came from “academic studies”, though the Department of Health hasn’t told us which he has in mind.

After conversations with the government earlier in the week, FactCheck understands he’s referring to research by Public Health England.

Scientists compared the actual Covid-19 death toll between December and the end of April with what would have happened had there been no vaccines available. The difference is 11,700.

But the analysis can’t tell us what would have happened if the government had opted for a shorter “dosing interval” between jabs.

For example, it didn’t consider the number of lives that would have been saved if the first and second doses had been delivered three weeks apart – as was the initial plan – or eight weeks, as is now happening for some groups.

So we can’t attribute all of those 11,700 saved lives to the 12-week strategy specifically, despite Mr Hancock’s claim.

Now, the policy may well have saved more people than the other options available. That seems to be the conclusion the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) reached early in the rollout.

But some of the 11,700 lives saved under the 12-week dosing regimen would also have been saved had the government opted for shorter intervals – not least because some of the most vulnerable would have got the added protection of the second jab earlier in the year when the second wave was more ferocious.

FactCheck verdict

Matt Hancock said this week that the government’s decision to offer people their second vaccine dose 12 weeks after their first jab “has saved around 12,000 lives”.

Recent analysis by Public Health England estimates that there had 11,700 fewer Covid-19 deaths up to the end of April than there would have been in the absence of vaccines.

What this research can’t tell us is how many people were saved by the specific policy Mr Hancock is referring to – spreading out the doses by 12 weeks, rather than three weeks as was the initial plan. The 12-week strategy might have been the best option available, but at least some of those 11,700 lives would have also been saved with a shorter gap between jabs.