Boris Johnson has set a January 31 target to offer all adults a booster – but a hotly-awaited NHS letter today suggested it could take another week and a half to get the new-look rollout off the ground
The supercharged Covid booster vaccine rollout could take another 10 days to get off the ground, NHS chiefs have revealed.
Officials today sent a letter to all hospitals, GP surgeries and vaccine centres in England – four days after Boris Johnson announced wider eligibility for the jab.
Government advisors gave the green light to halve the gap between doses to three months, and expand boosters to all adults.
But despite the PM setting a January 31 deadline to offer all adults a booster, officials are still updating the national booking website and NHS documentation to allow for the change to the dosing interval.
The letter added: “Our intention is to go live as soon as possible and no later than 13 December.”
Until then, patients will still only be able to get their third dose six months or more after their second.
The letter does not set target dates for different age groups – who’ll be prioritised for the vaccine in descending five-year age bands – to get the jab. Well over 20million people are awaiting a booster.
It comes despite Boris Johnson setting the January 31 target and ministers previously insisting more information was imminent. Health Minister Gillian Keegan insisted on Tuesday: “In the next couple of days that will come out, booking systems, etc…. In the next couple of days we’ll have the plan.”
The NHS letter warns routine health checks for over-75s and new patients “may be deferred” in England from December 1 to March 31 to free up capacity for vaccinations.
Contract enforcement for medics that fail to carry out minor surgery activity will be suspended, with the letter adding: “Capacity released must be redeployed to vaccination”.
And surgeries will be paid an increased reward of £15 per vaccine, or £20 on Sundays and bank holidays.
The fee for vaccinating housebound patients will rise from £20 to £30 and there will be a temporary £10 supplement for vaccinating immunosuppressed people.
It emerged on Monday that all adults in the UK will now be eligible for a Covid booster vaccine – Pfizer or Moderna – to fight the Omicron variant.
Previously all over-40s and people with certain health conditions were being offered a third dose.
That was extended to all over-18s following a rapid review by the JCVI.
At the same time, the JCVI halved the minimum gap between second and third doses from six months to three months.
While immunity is said to be better with a six-month gap, the JCVI weighed that up against the risks of waiting too long with a new variant.
Boris Johnson confirmed: “As with the first jabs, we will be working through people by age group going down in five-year bands.
“It is vital that the older and the more clinically vulnerable get that added protection first.”
That means those aged 35-39 will be offered the booster, followed by 30-34, then 25-29, 20-24 and under-20. In practice the booking system was known to open up to one year group at a time earlier this year.
Those already eligible at the top of the list were people in residential care homes; over-40s; frontline health and care workers; and under-50s with under-40s with underlying health conditions; and adults who share a household with immunosuppressed people.
The NHS letter today confirmed: “The JCVI are clear that those at greatest risk must be prioritised, including those who are housebound, and those severely immunosuppressed.
“Therefore, the NHS will offer vaccination in descending age groups, with priority given to the vaccination of older adults and those in a COVID-19 at-risk group first.”