Tens of thousands of volunteers will be needed to support the NHS as it races to offer boosters to all adults by the end of January. Good Samaritans can play their part by giving their time as stewards at jab centres or filling one of the 10,000 paid vaccinator roles. Professor Steve Powis, NHS medical director, said: “We will once again need the support of fantastic volunteers.
“If you are able to help then please do volunteer – your help can help us to protect more people and save more lives this winter and beyond. No role is too small as we race against the virus.”
More than 16.2 million top-up doses have been administered so far in England, and a further 3.6 million people have fixed a slot to get theirs this month. The NHS said more than one million appointments had been snapped up via the National Booking Service since Monday.
Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS deputy vaccination lead, said: “While we are just three weeks away from the Christmas break, the emergence of the new variant is obviously a concern for us all and we are seeing hundreds of thousands of people every day booking to receive their life-saving protection.
“NHS staff are continuing to pull out all the stops to boost the most vulnerable as quickly as we possibly can. Last year, more than 17,000 people spent Christmas Day in hospital with Covid. And while this year we can expect things to be much better because of the huge success of the vaccine programme, it remains vital that people get their boost of protection.”
NHS chiefs have described the next stage of the rollout as the “most complex” yet, following major changes to eligibility in the face of Omicron. Over-40s were already due to be given boosters but – under new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the programme is being expanded to all over-18s. The minimum gap between second doses and top-ups has also been slashed from six months to three to give more people protection sooner.
A letter sent to local NHS leaders yesterday revealed that the expanded booking system is due to launch by December 13. It noted that in some places workforce was “the rate-limiting factor for increasing capacity, particularly in rural areas”.
The military are already being mobilised and clinical students are being invited to work bank shifts. Meanwhile, NHS organisations have been asked to deploy health professionals to support vaccination services. Some 93,000 volunteers came forward in earlier phases of the rollout to staff vaccination sites and administer jabs.
The NHS is working with the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) and St John Ambulance to train thousands more for the festive booster blitz. RVS chief executive Catherine Johnstone urged people to play their part, saying: “With the new Omicron variant, we are urgently calling for volunteer support at vaccination sites.” A St John Ambulance spokesman said: “Volunteers have already delivered millions of vaccinations since the start of 2021 and given over 825,000 hours of their time supporting the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Top-up vaccinations will be offered in descending order of age groups, prioritising older and at-risk individuals, as during the initial rollout. Hospital hubs and pharmacies are stepping up, and GP teams, who have delivered the bulk of the programme, are being supported to increase capacity. Until the end of March, GP surgeries will be allowed to pause routine health checks for over-75s and new patients where “clinically appropriate”. They can stop performing minor surgery and reduce some checks for those with long-term conditions.
Dr Gary Howsam, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs, thanked volunteers who had assisted primary care teams and made “a real difference”. He said: “From day one, GPs and our teams have played a leading role in the vaccination programme. But, make no mistake, it would not have been the success it has been without the invaluable help of volunteers.
Spirit “The NHS is now working hard to offer all eligible people a booster vaccine by the end of January.This will be quite a feat as we enter what’s likely to be a challenging winter, and the vital help and support of volunteers will be hugely valued.”
NHS chief Amanda Pritchard has said she was “confident that with public support, the can-do spirit of the NHS will once again win through”. She added: “If you are able to help then please do apply or volunteer.” The Government is also stepping up its campaign targeting unvaccinated pregnant women.
Three mums who suffered serious bouts of Covid while pregnant have told their harrowing stories in a powerful video. Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said: “Nearly one in five Covid-19 patients who are most critically ill are pregnant women who have not been vaccinated.”