The Government must speed up its Covid booster vaccine campaign if it to meet its target of offering all over-50s a third jab by Christmas, a group of UK scientists have warned.
The group, which calls itself Independent SAGE and includes health experts from University College London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Cambridge, warned that at current rates of vaccination the booster programme will not finish until February.
It said this comes as UKHSA statistics show that between 3-31 October, 2,470 fully vaccinated people over 70 died within 60 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
Intensive care admissions have also increased, with between a quarter and a third of beds being occupied by Covid patients in some areas, Independent SAGE said.
The current combination of ‘waning immunity and high transmission rates’ is a ‘serious concern’, according to the scientists, which have also urged the Government to put in stricter measures to reduce Covid rates.
The news comes as the Government is set to overhaul Covid booster jab bookings from Monday, allowing patients to pre-book their appointment for when they become eligible one month in advance.
It said this would help eligible patients have their booster jab as soon as possible six months after their second dose, rather than waiting weeks to find a convenient appointment slot.
Currently, only health and social care professionals, patients aged 50 or over, or patients who are at high risk of Covid complications can book a booster jab, and only at the six-month mark following their second dose.
Addressing eligible people, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Covid-19 vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your family ahead of a challenging winter and this change to the booking system will make it as easy as possible for people to book their booster jabs.
‘This will accelerate the booster programme, ensure the NHS is able to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and importantly help more people maintain protection against COVID-19 as we know immunity will dip over time.
‘Please do not delay – come and get the jab to keep the virus at bay.’
Over nine million people have had their Covid booster jab to date, the Government said, while NHS England also announced that all care home residents have now been offered a booster jab by visiting GPs. It had already said GPs were on track to meet the 1 November deadline.