Covid booster jab rollout to begin for 5 million most vulnerable people
Around 5 million people are to be invited for a coronavirus booster jab as case levels reach their highest since the start of the year.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates, using the latest available figures, that 1.7 million people in private households in the UK are likely to have had Covid-19 in the week to 13 March.
Hospital admissions have also been on the rise, as the ONS published its last ever survey on the virus, prompting dismay among virologists at the “incomprehensible” decision to scrap the service. They warned that it could leave the UK “fighting blind” against Covid.
From Monday, millions of people will for the first time be invited to get their spring booster via the NHS app, with others being sent text messages and letters asking them to book an appointment from 5 April.
Those eligible for the vaccine top-up include people aged 75 and over, and anyone aged five and over who is immune-suppressed.
Steve Russell, the NHS director of vaccinations and screening, said: “As a society, we are learning to live with Covid but, for many, it is still a virus that can cause serious illness and hospitalisation, and so it is still really important that those at greatest risk come forward and boost their protection in the coming weeks.
“There are still around 8,000 people in hospital with Covid, according to the latest data, and the NHS has now treated more than a million Covid inpatients since the pandemic began.
“So if you are over 75 or you have a weakened immune system, please come forward as soon as possible to book a Covid vaccine this spring, so you can enjoy summer with peace of mind.”
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: “We’re committed to giving vulnerable people the protection they need from the virus, so I want to encourage those who are 75 or over or who have a weakened immune system to book their booster jab from Wednesday.
“It’s quick and easy and will give the protection you need for the months ahead.”
The offer for anyone to get a first Covid jab will end on 30 June, with more targeted seasonal campaigns likely to take place in future.
Earlier this year, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said the spring booster campaign could include vaccination with the Pfizer, Moderna, and Sanofi/GSK jabs. The Novavax jab will be available for use only when the alternatives are not considered clinically suitable.
Children under 12 will be offered a children’s formulation of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The vaccine people receive will depend on the local supply, with the jab delivered at around 3,000 sites across England, mostly by pharmacies and GPs.
Dr Mary Ramsay, director of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Covid-19 is still circulating widely, and older people are still at greatest risk of more severe illness and being hospitalised.
“Those with weakened immune systems are also vulnerable, so it is important everyone who is eligible comes forward for a spring booster to top up their immunity against what is still a serious virus.”
Additional reporting by PA