Covid booster jab uptake ‘too slow to stop NHS being overwhelmed this winter' reigniting lockdown fears

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Covid booster jab uptake ‘too slow to stop NHS being overwhelmed this winter’ reigniting lockdown fears

THE Covid booster programme – the key part of the Government’s plan to prevent a new wave this winter – is moving too slow, experts fear. 

It could spell trouble for hospitalisation and death rates, putting pressure on ministers to impose restrictions yet again.

Covid booster jab uptake ‘too slow to stop NHS being overwhelmed this winter’ reigniting lockdown fears

There are concerns the booster campaign is too slow. Pictured: Social worker Melody Howard receives her third shot at Midland House in Derby Credit: LNP

Boosters are being used to bolster immunity in the most vulnerable of society, who got their jabs several months ago.

The third shots are the heart of the Government’s plan A for Covid during winter.

But data show the majority of at-risk people have not yet had their additional jab, and may not for several more weeks or months into the winter.

The NHS says people will be invited for their booster jab at least six months on from their second dose, when the effects are thought to start wearing off.

It means only those who got their second dose in mid-April or earlier are being invited at the moment.

Around 6.5 million people in England of the 30 million in total who are advised to have a booster are eligible now.

Some 3.1 million (10 per cent of the total who need one) have been given their third shot, the NHS says.

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and Deputy Lead for the NHS Covid-19 Vaccination Programme, said the response so far had been “fantastic”.

But experts fear it may not be fast enough to offset falling immunity in the population.

Data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study found that after six months, protection from the Pfizer vaccine fell to 74 per cent, and the AstraZeneca jab to 67 per cent.

Duncan Robertson, of Warwick University, says that delays will have to be “resolved immediately” to avoid unnecessary pressures on the NHS.

“Booster vaccinations are there to prevent hospitalisations and ultimately to save lives. Delays matter,” he told The Times.

Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care at Imperial College London, said a lower uptake of third doses was “inevitable”, adding: “People were initially told that two doses were enough. They were in lockdown, and the vaccine was their ticket out of it.”

Andrew Preston, a professor of microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath, said “our early roll out of vaccination means immunity will wane earlier than other countries” – as data show the UK is currently experiencing the worst Covid outbreak in Europe.

He also warned the highly infectious Delta is dominating this winter, instead of Alpha. 

He told The Sun: “The high infectivity of Delta means that more people will be resusceptible to infection when their immunity wanes, compared to Alpha. 

“We see that in the data where vaccination protects against infection by perhaps 60 per cent compared to high 80’s for Alpha.”

Prof Preston also raised concerns of the proportion of unvaccinated people in the UK.

He said: “Although we have a great majority of the population vaccinated, even say 10-15 per cent of 60 odd million is a lot of people unvaccinated. 

“Even at 40,000 cases a day affecting only those, that would take 150 days to infect all. 

“The slow roll out of vaccination to teenagers has allowed high numbers of infections in that age group.”

Covid booster jab uptake ‘too slow to stop NHS being overwhelmed this winter’ reigniting lockdown fears

How immunity wanes over time, according to one study

Restrictions now?

Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), is one expert calling for the Government’s plan B to be implemented now. 

Plan B, held for when Covid trends worsen even more, includes face masks in crowded settings, working from home and Covid certification.

Prof Gupta told the Financial Times: “We’re just far too reliant on our relatively modest vaccination coverage as our only line of defence.”

Martin McKee, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said England “should immediately be activating” plan B.

Professor Neil Ferguson – whose scientific modelling led to the March 2020 lockdown – said recent modelling suggested that if booster uptake was high enough and the rollout was fast enough, additional measures might not be necessary. 

But he added that if cases continued to rise over the next two weeks, “then clearly I’m sure the government will be re-evaluating the measures in place”.  

Prof Preston thinks “a return to restrictions that hit economic activity” – like lockdowns – is unlikely. 

But he added: “It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see mask wearing return to mandatory in some situations.

“In short, if you unlock when there’s a lot of virus around and get rid of all mitigations, you’ll see high levels of infections. The big question is what will society find acceptable, or tolerate, as the price we’re prepared to pay for ‘freedom’.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid urged “all those eligible for a top-up dose to get yours as soon as possible”.

Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said: “Everyone eligible should not delay in getting their jab as soon as they can.”

Dr Hilary Jones concerned by rise in Covid deaths as cases soar but people with booster jabs are ‘much more protected’

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