NHS England has today extended the invitation to book in for Covid vaccination to all over-50s.
This means entering the ninth and final cohort of the first phase of the programme, which the Government aims to have completed by 15 April, and follows the expansion to those aged 55-59 in cohort eight last week.
It comes as the Government announced that 25.3 million people – nearly half of the UK population – was vaccinated between 8 December and 16 March. Of these, 1.8 million have also had their second dose.
NHS England messages inviting patients aged over 50 to book a jab online at a mass vaccination centre or community pharmacy will be followed up by around 2.4 million letters later in the week, NHS England said.
Text invitations ‘will also be received from local booking services through a GP-led team’, it added.
GP-led vaccination sites are currently focusing on cohort six – including over-16s who are clinically vulnerable – but the BMA recently said they can vaccinate everyone in an eligible group.
NHS England’s latest GP bulletin added that practices should move to lower cohorts only after they have done ‘everything possible’ to vaccinate those in cohorts one to six.
Sent to practices last night, it said: ‘It is absolutely critical that we continue to vaccinate within the priority cohorts and ensure we don’t move to lower cohorts until we have done everything possible to reach cohorts 1-6; in particular, cohort six (people with underlying health conditions).
‘We know there might be some reticence with these patients, but it is vital that nobody is left behind.’
There have been some ‘excellent examples’ of proactive work with hard-to-reach patients, but practices ‘need to do more’ – particularly to reach patients with severe mental illness, it added.
NHS England’s primary care director Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘The number of vaccines available to the NHS will continue to go up and down week by week and month by month in line with manufacturers’ ability to supply us.
‘But this week and next we have larger supplies, so we want anyone in the top priority groups – people aged 50 and older as well as those working in health and care and anyone with an underlying health condition – to come forward soon to protect themselves and their loved ones.’
Last week, it was revealed that the first nine cohorts may have been offered their first Covid jab by the end of March, two weeks before the Government’s target date, amid a boost in vaccine supply.
And NHS England announced further details of general practice involvement in phase two of the vaccination programme – giving practices until Friday 19 March to opt in or out of delivery.
Phase two will begin once the cohorts are formally authorised by the Government and practices should not invite any patients below cohort nine for vaccination, NHS England’s bulletin added.
Practices taking part in phase two of the vaccine rollout have also been offered the opportunity to join the online booking system – which is currently only open to mass vaccination centres and community pharmacies.
Celebrating the ‘extraordinary feat’ of 25 million vaccinations on the 100th day of the vaccine programme, health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘It has been a national mission, one of the one of the biggest logistical exercises since the war and I’d like to thank everyone who played their part, including every NHS vaccinator, GPs, pharmacists, volunteers and the armed forces for their crucial role in every corner of the UK.
‘We’re ahead of schedule to offer a first dose to all in these groups by the 15 April and I urge everybody eligible to come forward.’