Can the booster drive cope? Scramble for third doses begins as 4,000 Brits queue on NHS booking site

There are concerns the UK’s booster drive won’t keep up with demand as 4,000 newly eligible Britons scrambled to book third doses on the NHS website.

The Government’s vaccines advisers today expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18, meaning a total of 40million people are now eligible for one — but reports on the ground suggest the current drive was already struggling to reach the vulnerable. 

Some already eligible over-40s still face hurdles to get their injection, including waits of over a month, spending hours on the phone to their GP or booking service, or being directed to vaccination sites tens of miles away from where they live.

Figures show a third fewer mass vaccination hubs are in operation compared to earlier this year, while overwhelmed NHS staff say they will struggle to help with getting jabs in arms due to winter pressures.  

And a couple in their 80s faced said they struggled to get boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won’t be boosted until mid-February if it continues at the current rate.

Meanwhile, No10’s spokesperson today said it was keeping the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ ‘under review’, paving the way for people to need all three doses to be considered properly immunised.  

Britons are currently considered to be ‘fully vaccinated’ if they received their second dose of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna at least two weeks ago. 

If boosters were required to be considered completely immunised, all adults in the UK may require third doses to go to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres as well as to work in health or social care. 

 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) today announced all over-18s in the UK would be invited for a third Covid injection in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant. The move prompted thousands to rush to book their jabs, with people being stuck in a virtual queue on the NHS website behind thousands of people (pictured)

Brian Bull (left), 83, and Jennifer Hodgkinson (right), 79, faced problems getting their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website

Brian Bull (left), 83, and Jennifer Hodgkinson (right), 79, faced problems getting their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won't be boosted until February 13 if the rollout continues at its current rate

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won’t be boosted until February 13 if the rollout continues at its current rate

Moderna CEO warns vaccine antibody levels could be up to EIGHT TIMES lower against Omicron variant 

The current crop of Covid vaccines may not be as effective against the Omicron variant, according Moderna’s chief executive.

Stephane Bancel told CNBC’s Squawk Box that his company is researching the variant and trying to determine how much of a risk it poses to Americans.

He fears that the antibodies Moderna’s Covid vaccine provides to fight against the virus could be eight times lower against the new strain.

The variant, which emerged last week, is believed to be the most infectious yet and could have the ability to evade vaccine protection. 

Mr Bancel said: ‘There are two key things that we don’t know yet and will find out in [coming] weeks.

‘One is vaccine efficacy. What is the impact of this new variant on the vaccine efficacy, and we should know that in around two weeks.’ 

‘We believe this [variant] is highly infectious… it seems to be much more infectious than Delta.

‘Given the large level of mutation it is highly possible that the efficacy of the vaccines, all of them, is going down.’

The JCVI previously advised the over-40s, health workers and those at high risk from Covid to get a booster to provide to ‘help them maintain high levels of protection against hospitalisation, severe illness or dying over the winter’.

But today it said 18 to 39-year-olds will also be offered third doses, in descending age groups in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant.

Experts fear the strain — scientifically known as B.1.1.529 — is more infectious than Delta and can dodge vaccine protection because its mutations make it look so different to previous versions of the virus. 

And due to the risk posed by the Omicron variant the third injection can be given from three months after the second dose, slashing the minimum wait from six months. 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid immunisation at the JCVI, said: ‘Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant. 

‘This is an important way for us to reduce the impact of this variant on our lives, especially in the coming months. 

‘If you are eligible for a booster, please take up the offer and keep yourself protected as we head into winter.’

But since the booster programme was expanded to over-40s on November 15, dozens of people have reported spending hours on the phone to their GP or the NHS booking service, with one woman only getting through on her 92nd call.

And some eligible elderly patients were told their next available appointment was in a month’s time.

Red tape is also hampering the rollout, with one 94-year-old blind woman turned away from a jab centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, as she arrived a day early. 

Patients are being encouraged to use the NHS walk-in finder for their nearest centre, supposed to be within ten miles.

But some have been told they must travel tens of miles to get their vaccine as many GP surgeries and pharmacies do not offer top-up jabs. 

Brian Bull and his partner Jennifer struggled to get their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

Mr Bull, 83, was due for his jab for nearly a month ago but was turned away by a clinic near his home in Appleby, Cumbria, every time he goes to it. 

He added: ‘The NHS website said there was a walk-in centre at Penrith. We drove the 14 miles only for the receptionist to say she knew nothing about it.’

And figures last month revealed there are a third fewer mass vaccination hubs in operation compared to when the original two-dose Covid vaccine programme was at the peak of its powers in April.

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date 

The NHS moved away from the flagship centres, many of which were set up temporarily in sports stadiums, shopping centres and museums, with local pharmacies and GP surgeries picking up more of the load.

‘Shambles’: Patients slam the rollout of third doses 

Brian Bull and his partner Jennifer struggled to get their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

Mr Bull, 83, was due for his jab for nearly a month ago but was turned away by a clinic near his home in Appleby, Cumbria, every time he goes to it. 

He added: ‘The NHS website said there was a walk-in centre at Penrith. We drove the 14 miles only for the receptionist to say she knew nothing about it.’

They were directed to a rugby club but ‘they weren’t holding sessions that day’. 

He added: ‘We see so many advertisements from the NHS telling us to get our boosters, but it’s very hard to actually do it.’

And the rollout has been a ‘shambles’, said a retired police officer forced to go in person to his West Yorkshire GP to book his booster.

Keith Woodland, 74, who has an irregular heartbeat, was unable to book after he got an NHS text telling him to get a third jab. 

‘After calling 119 I tried again but the system was down. I was told the surgery might have the wrong details about me.’ 

He said: ‘It’s a shambles. All these senior politicians who say people aren’t booking jabs – when we can’t do it anyway.’

Current bumps in the rollout could be exacerbated by NHS capacity, with GPs and nurses stretched thin with winter pressures, meaning they may be unable to help get jabs into arms. 

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, last month hinted GPs were struggling to get involved in the booster programme because they were already juggling a surge in demand for appointments and the flu jab campaign.

And the announcement today could spur on the 12.6million over-40s eligible for a booster jab that have not yet come forward, meaning the overwhelmed health service could struggle to keep up with demand for third doses.

And the Prime Minister’s official spokesman hinted Britons may need the top-up dose in the coming months to be considered ‘fully vaccinated’. 

Under Plan B — which would see the Government tell people to work from home and introduce vaccine passports if the NHS faced unsustainable pressure — Britons could be required to provide they are fully vaccinated to enter certain settings, such as restaurants, pubs and cinemas. 

Asked whether adults in the UK will be required to have three Covid injections to be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Well, as I have said before, that is something we are keeping under review and obviously we will take clinical advice on what is appropriate.

‘We recognise obviously there may be changes to our approach based on what we discover about this new variant. But we would update if there are any plans to change that definition.’

Asked whether people would be given sufficient notice if the change was introduced, they said: ‘Yes. We would need to make sure it was done in advance and communicated clearly.’

England does not currently have vaccine passports in place, but rules came into effect last month requiring social care workers to be fully vaccinated to continue working in the sector. And the same rule will come into effect for frontline NHS staff from April.

It is not clear whether frontline workers would need all three jabs as part of the ‘no jab, no job’ policy that saw thousands leave the social care sector earlier this month. 

Rules are already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland requiring people to show they are fully vaccinated or tested negative to go to nightclubs, bars and large-scale events.


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