The NHS has renewed its push to drive up COVID-19 booster uptake, with people allowed from today to book their appointments a month before they are eligible.
They will only be able to receive it once they do become eligible, but the new measure could help them ensure they get inoculated as soon as their group is called.
It’s part of the government’s attempt to vaccinate as many people as possible ahead of winter, as most Britons head indoors to socialise – where the virus easily spreads – with flu also expected to surge.
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Third shots are currently available to those aged over 50 and those deemed most at risk from coronavirus.
On Sunday, the government announced it had administered 10 million booster shoots – but the NHS says there are still 4.5 million people who haven’t had a first dose.
The health secretary also urged the public to get a booster “as soon as you can”, saying it would help “keep people safe over the winter” and avoid Christmas restrictions.
“For those not yet eligible, please help your parents, grandparents or vulnerable loved ones get their jabs – it could save their life,” said Sajid Javid.
“This truly is a national mission,” he added.
“If we all come together and play our part, we can get through this challenging winter, avoid a return to restrictions and enjoy Christmas.”
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard has warned the next few months will be tough.
“There is no doubt that the NHS is running hot and there are some very real pressures on health and social care,” she said.
Ms Pritchard said there was “14 times the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 than we saw this time last year” – based on the latest published month-on-month NHS data for August.
“We also had a record number of A&E attendance and a record number of 999 calls,” she added.
“As we look into winter, I think we’re very clear this is going to be a difficult winter, and the things we encourage people to do is anything they can do to protect themselves, so that’s the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s the flu vaccination in particular.”
She urged anyone who has not yet had a COVID-19 jab to do so, saying it was an “evergreen” offer.
Analysis by Ed Conway, Data Editor
More than a half a million adults have come forward for a first dose since the beginning of September, an average of around 9,000 a day over the past four-and-a-half months, according to the NHS.
But the call for vaccination isn’t resonating with everyone.
A woman getting her second dose of the Pfizer jab at a southwest London vaccination centre told Sky News: “I’ve heard reports of people who had boosters and still got COVID-19 so [I’m] not really sure that it’s really necessary – if my body needs to cope it will do well with two doses.”
Some scientists say that this is down to the lack of clarity from authorities on how much of a threat COVID-19 still is.
“I think this is a very confusing public health message from the government,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA Council.
“Because on the one hand, it’s concerned about the level of infections and is really urging everyone to have the vaccine, but on the other hand, it’s telling people that they can actually mix freely, without any infection control measures, and they can actually mix without face coverings, without physical distancing, with crowding in indoor spaces.”
With the NHS already under strain, fears are mounting about what this winter might bring.
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