Administration of Covid booster jabs will begin ‘next week’, health secretary Sajid Javid has told MPs as he set out the Government’s plans for managing Covid through the winter.
His statement, which followed the JCVI’s final recommendation this morning to offer a booster jab to all over-50s, also outlined plans to protect the NHS against high infection rates this winter.
As part of these plans, Mr Javid said he expects Covid vaccination to be made mandatory for frontline health and social care workers.
And he said the Government has a ‘plan B’ to ‘prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS’ this winter, although this does not include further lockdowns.
Mr Javid said: ‘I can confirm that I have accepted the JCVI’s advice and that the NHS is preparing to offer booster doses from next week. The NHS will contact people at the right time and nobody needs to come forward at this point.
‘This booster programme will protect the most vulnerable through the winter months, and strengthen our wall of defence even further.’
Meanwhile, in a bid to protect ‘those at greatest risk’ of Covid, the health secretary said he thinks it is ‘highly likely’ Covid and flu vaccination will become mandatory for GPs and all other frontline NHS and social care staff.
Referencing the ongoing consultation into mandatory jabs, he said: ‘Although we are keeping an open mind – and we won’t be making a final decision until we fully consider the results of the consultation – I believe that it is highly likely that frontline NHS staff, and those working in wider social care settings, will also have to be vaccinated to protect those that are around them, and that this will be an important step in protecting those at greatest risk.’
In his speech, he outlined the Government’s five-part winter plan as:
- Vaccinations and new Covid treatments
- Testing and tracing
- Extra funding for NHS and social care (as announced last week); and mandatory Covid and flu vaccinations for NHS frontline staff (subject to consultation outcome)
- Flu vaccinations; meeting outdoors/ventilating indoor spaces; wearing face masks where recommended
- International vaccination and border control
He also outlined the Government’s plan B as:
- communicating need for caution to the public;
- legally mandating face coverings in certain settings;
- reserving the power to mandate Covid passports
- asking people to work from home for a limited time
Stressing that these measures would only be implemented if ‘supported by the data’, he argued that ‘any responsible Government must prepare for all eventualities’.
The news comes as the BMA yesterday voted in favour of all doctors having the Covid vaccine, although it stopped short of supporting mandatory jabs.
In response to the winter plan, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul urged the Government to act now to curb the spread of infection, rather than when it is ‘too late’.
He said: ‘The NHS is heading into an incredibly challenging winter: GPs and hospital doctors are already under immense pressure having to contend with Covid-19 and the likely onslaught of flu, while services are overstretched with trying to treat the huge backlogs of care, with patients suffering on long waiting lists for the treatment they need.
‘It’s only right that Government has decided to press ahead with implementing a booster vaccine programme to control the spread of Covid, and we’re pleased to see that healthcare workers are included in that.
‘However, vaccination will never offer 100% protection and with high rates of infection, we must act now and introduce other measures if we’re to keep the health service afloat this winter.’
He suggested this should include making meeting outdoors and wearing face coverings in crowded spaces mandatory.