Two million eligible people will be invited to receive a COVID-19 booster jab from the NHS this week, as the government seeks to see off a sharp rise in cases without introducing Plan B measures.
Calls for the reintroduction of masks, social distancing and working from home continued over the weekend, but ministers have so far shown no sign of doing so despite fears over the pressure on hospitals.
Instead, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has been leading calls for people to once again get jabbed in the hope that boosting the population’s immunity levels will see infections drop off.
The two million invites going out from today will be sent by letters, emails, and text messages, and anyone who is contacted is urged to get their booster as soon as possible.
After a record-setting few days for the booster programme, with five million people having now received a booster since the campaign began last month, it’s hoped major progress will be made over half-term.
Around 7.5 million people have already been invited by text, email, and letter encouraging them to book through the National Booking Service, NHS England said.
The health service is following guidance that boosters should be given at least six months after the second dose, with current evidence suggesting it is the best time to increase immunity to COVID.
Around 10 million people in England are currently eligible for a booster, including health and care workers, those with underlying health conditions, and people aged 50 and over.
NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis urged people to get their jabs.
“Winter is coming and infection rates are rising and so it’s now really important that everyone receiving their invite for a booster vaccine from the NHS this week books in at one of the convenient vaccinations sites around the country offering this crucial, additional protection,” he said.
“Thanks to NHS staff, nine in 10 people have had a first dose, saving tens of thousands of lives, and now more than five million boosters have been delivered in the first month of the rollout.
“I would urge anyone receiving an invite this week to book in as soon as possible – the booster dose is proven to significantly increase protection against COVID and will provide vital protection this winter.”
Also from Monday, just over 2.5 million letters will arrive with parents and guardians inviting them to book a jab online through the National Booking Service.
There are almost 100 sites offering jabs to children aged 12 to 15, with hundreds more expected to join them in the coming weeks.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS vaccine programme, said she would urge families to “book in to give children and their loved ones crucial protection ahead of winter”.
However, Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), warned the vaccination programme will not be enough to bring infection numbers under control.
He said while vaccines are effective at stopping people from getting seriously ill, they are not as effective at stopping infections altogether or halting the spread of the virus.
“They do have an effect on that, but they’re not by themselves going to be enough at the present time to keep the spread of the virus under control,” he told Sky News.
“And we do need to see people continuing to make efforts to avoid contact, to avoid transmission, and to do other things as well as get vaccinated if we’re going to stop this rise from going up further.”
Prof Finn added: “I would like to re-emphasise the fact that the vaccine programme by itself, in the current situation, even if things go optimally, is not, in my opinion, enough to bring things under control.
“We do need to have people using lateral flow tests, avoiding contact with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces, using masks, all of those things now need to happen if we’re going to stop this rise and get things under control soon enough to stop a real meltdown in the middle of the winter.”