Patients aged 42 and over are now eligible for their first Covid jab, amid a surprise update to the online booking system.
Yesterday, NHS England announced that GPs could begin inviting patients aged 44 for their Covid jab, as two-thirds of those aged 45-49 have received their first dose.
It said that a decision on inviting the rest of cohort 10 would be made ‘very shortly’, depending on ‘available supply’.
The national booking system now states that those aged 42 or over or who turn 42 before 1 July 2021 can use the service.
And an NHS England spokesperson has confirmed to Pulse that GP-led vaccination sites can also begin inviting these patients for their first dose.
However, they said that the majority will book through the national system, which was not previously linked with PCN vaccination sites.
Practices taking part in phase two of the vaccine rollout have been offered the opportunity to join the online system, but it remains unclear how many have done so.
NHS England has also declined to tell Pulse how many PCNs have signed up to remain in the vaccination programme through the next phase and how many opted out.
In a statement published on Twitter this morning, health secretary Matt Hancock said the expansion comes as the rollout to those aged 44 has ‘gone very very well’.
He said: ‘I’m very excited to be able to tell you that today we are opening vaccination up to people aged 43 and 42 – which includes me – so I’m really looking forward to getting my text.
‘Yesterday we opened up to people aged 44 – that’s gone very very well, thank you to the hundreds of thousands who have come forward and booked [their] appointment – and now we’re able to go that little bit further.
Uptake is ‘astonishingly high’ and the programme is going ‘incredibly well’, he added.
NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘Just two weeks after rolling out the vaccine to those aged 45 and over, we are now ready to invite those aged 42 and 43, as the largest vaccination programme in NHS history continues at speed.
‘The rapid rollout of the NHS vaccination programme, the swiftest in Europe, hasn’t happened by accident – it is down to months of careful planning and sheer hard work by nurses, doctors and countless other staff supported by our volunteers.’
NHS England last week told GPs that the vaccination programme was expected to be rolled out to the 40-44s this week, but that practices will continue to receive no ‘new’ first-dose deliveries as there is already enough vaccine supply ‘in systems’.
The NHS England spokesperson said on background that there are no problems with supply and that a decision to move onto those aged 40 and over will be set out over the coming days as supply allows.
They reiterated that the programme’s second expansion in two days is not linked to slow uptake.