The rollout of Covid-19 booster jabs is being ramped up this month as part of efforts to curb the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Booster vaccines are being offered to all over 18s in England following updated guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), with the aim of giving a top-up dose to everyone eligible by 31 December.
The JCVI has said that all adults will become eligible for a booster jab three months after their second dose, instead of the previous six month wait.
The NHS booking service for booster jabs has now been updated to be updated to allow all over 30s to schedule an appointment, with younger age groups to follow in the coming days.
What has NHS England said?
In a letter from the health service released on 3 December, it was revealed that the booking system would be updated to reflect the reduced time between doses to three months “as soon as possible and no later than December 13”.
It said the jabs would be delivered “in descending age groups”, with priority to be given to older adults first, along with those who are in a Covid-19 at-risk group.
GP surgeries have also been given permission to defer routine health checks for those aged 75 and over to free up capacity to administer booster doses, and the Army and “clinical students” could be called on to help deliver the jabs.
While the pressure the health service is already facing was acknowledged, the letter stressed there was a “new national mission” after ministers set the challenge for the NHS to offer boosters to all adults in just 62 days.
The booking system opened to over 30s on Monday (13 December), but people have been unable to access appointments due to “extremely high demand”.
NHS England has advised people trying to book a thier booster to try later or tomorrow as people face a queue on the website.
The booking service is due to open to people aged between 18 and 29 from Wednesday (15 December).
In a tweet, the health service said: “The Covid vaccine booking service is currently facing extremely high demand so is operating a queuing system.
“For users aged 18-29, please be aware that booking opens on Wednesday 15 Dec.
“For all others experiencing waits, we would advise trying again later today or tomorrow.”
Public urged ‘play your part’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has urged everyone who is eligible to ‘play your part’ and get a booster jab this winter, as he warned the country is “once again in a race between the vaccine and the virus”.
Extra vaccination sites are being opened up to help meet the December target alongside additional mobile units, and 42 military units will be deployed to help deliver the jabs across every health region.
Clinic opening hours are also being extended to allow more people to get vaccinated, with Mr Javid saying the plan is for centres to be open for at least 12 hours per day over the Christmas holidays, apart from Christmas Day.
Despite the huge vaccination drive, Downing Street has ruled out making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory to protect against the variant.
Austria has decided to enforce such a policy and it is currently also being considered in Germany.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters: “We’ve set out our policy on this and we’ve said it’s not something that we would look to introduce.
“You’re aware of the changes we made in terms of social care settings and for NHS workers, given the importance of protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
“But there’s no plans above and beyond that in that regard.”
“Our priority is to continue to promote vaccinations and promote boosters now that we are rolling out more and more boosters to more and more people.
“That is our priority, that’s our focus, and that’s what we’re asking people to come forward and take.”
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