Covid booster jabs offered to all eligible adults by end of January

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Covid booster jabs offered to all eligible adults by end of January

By Dulcie Lee & Adam Durbin

BBC News

Published

Media caption,

Boris Johnson said he wanted to increase vaccination capacity across the UK

Covid booster jabs will be offered to everyone in England who is eligible by the end of January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Mr Johnson said the government would be “throwing everything” at the campaign so everyone can get a third jab.

People will be invited to book a booster three months after their second vaccine dose.

The rollout was expanded in response to the emerging Omicron variant, which could be more infectious than Delta.

A total of 22 cases of the new variant have so far been confirmed in the UK – 13 in England and nine cases in Scotland linked to a single event.

The prime minister said booster doses will be given at 1,500 community pharmacy sites and extra hospital hubs in England.

He added 400 military personnel will be on hand to help the NHS alongside “the fantastic jabs army of volunteers”.

“There’ll be temporary vaccination centres popping up like Christmas trees,” he told a Downing Street press conference.

Earlier, Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency – the body which replaced Public Health England – suggested people should limit unnecessary socialising in the run-up to Christmas, saying: “If we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay”.

But the prime minister disagreed, saying government guidance remains the same – but that people should “take sensible precautions” like washing hands and wearing masks.

Asked whether people should cancel Christmas parties and nativity plays, Mr Johnson said: “We don’t want people to cancel such events, and we think that overwhelmingly the best thing for kids is to be in schools.”

He said instead, they were taking a “balanced and proportionate” approach, and while he thought it extremely unlikely that another lockdown would be required, he was ruling nothing out.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said getting vaccinated would “give ourselves the best chance of a Christmas with our loved ones”.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Boris Johnson later made a speech at a festive food and drink market being held in Downing Street

Almost 18 million people in the UK have already had a booster jab. A further 14 million more adults have now become eligible for one in England alone, Mr Johnson said.

On Monday, the government’s vaccines advisers said boosters would be offered to all over-18s in the UK with the minimum gap between the second dose and booster reduced from six to three months.

Mr Johnson urged people to wait to be contacted by the health service before booking their booster, saying: “Even if you have had your second jab over three months ago and you are now eligible, please don’t try and book until the NHS says it is your turn.”

Jabs will be prioritised according to age, with the NHS working down the list in five-year bands as before, he said.

As well as expanding the booster jabs programme, the government has strengthened other Covid rules in response to concern over the new variant.

Face coverings are once again compulsory in places like shops and on public transport in England, and contacts of suspected Omicron cases are now required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

And as of Tuesday morning, anyone coming to the UK must self-isolate until they get a negative result from a PCR test, taken within 48 hours of arrival.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the measures, but said he had written to the prime minister urging him to “go further” by introducing “vital” testing for everyone before they travel.

He said: “They need urgently to put that additional measure in place… a PCR test is not a substitute for a pre-departure test.”

The end of January target is ambitious, but certainly achievable.

Crucially there is plentiful supply of vaccines – the challenge is increasing the rate at which the NHS can give jabs.

Currently just over two million booster doses a week are being given in England. At that rate it would take until the start of spring to vaccinate all eligible adults.

The PM can only set these targets for England but ministers in devolved nations have also committed to ramping up boosters

The challenge therefore is to get up to the levels of vaccination seen in the spring when around four million doses a week were being administered.

Some of the infrastructure that was in place in those early days has been dismantled. Many GPs and their teams have returned to their day jobs. A third of the mass vaccination centres have closed.

Pharmacies have stepped in to offer more jabs, but they are constrained in how many they can do by lack of staff.

Extra support for them will be vital. So will the hospital vaccination sites – there’s more than 200 of them but only 30 currently vaccinate members of the public.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said she was aiming to free up capacity to allow hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacies to give more booster jabs.

She said NHS staff were working at “breakneck speed” to expand the vaccine programme, which was already at its “most complex phase” and now faced the biggest change to eligibility so far.

Northern Ireland has announced extra vaccination clinics to meet demand. Scotland and Wales have said their booster programmes will be ramped up, but are yet to lay out the full details.

A further 39,716 confirmed Covid cases were announced in the UK on Tuesday, while another 159 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were also reported.

  • All nine of Scotland’s Omicron cases have been linked to a single event on 20 November – days before the variant was officially reported by South Africa
  • Wales’ health minister has said people should take the “threat” of socialising indoors with others at Christmas seriously
  • Stock markets around the world fell after the boss of Moderna cast doubts on the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron
  • Omicron was present in Europe earlier than previously thought with a case identified in the Netherlands on 19 November, officials have said
  • MPs overwhelmingly endorsed the new regulations on face masks in England, with 434 voting in favour and 23 against

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