NHS chief says complacency to blame for slow Covid booster jab rollout

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Complacency among older patients is to blame for the slow Covid booster rollout, the head of the NHS said yesterday.

Amanda Pritchard insisted there was ‘no delay in sending out invitations’ and that nearly two million over-50s will be invited this week.

She added: ‘Whilst it’s great that people are coming forward… they are not coming forward as quickly when they receive their invitation as for the first jabs.

‘It is really important that we now absolutely do get the message out that Covid is still with us, it is serious, boosters really do make a difference in boosting immunity.’

Another 223 deaths were announced yesterday – the highest daily total in seven months. 

Weekly coronavirus cases are up by 16 per cent, with another 43,748 recorded yesterday alone. Hospitalisations are also rising.

Two thirds of care home residents have not yet had a booster jab according to the Daily Telegraph despite the Government setting a deadline of November 1.

And Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said ‘quite a few GP vaccination centres have shut’ to allow doctors to tackle the treatment backlog. 

He said ease of access was a factor behind the sluggish rollout of booster jabs and first doses for children.

The chief executive of the NHS Confederation said the system was ‘right on the edge’ and a ‘plan B plus’ was needed.  

 Matthew Taylor told The Guardian: ‘We should try to achieve the kind of national mobilisation that we achieved in the first and second waves.’

Mr Taylor said this could include the public being encouraged to use the NHS responsibly, volunteer, look out for neighbours or even re-enter the healthcare workforce. 

He added: ‘We need that same sense of pulling together over the next few months, trying to avoid risky behaviour. 

‘This is not a question of if we don’t do it, something might happen. 

‘If we don’t do it, it would take a miracle for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a really profound crisis in our health and social care systems.’ 

New variant ‘is more infectious than Delta’ 

A new Covid variant is spreading and may be fuelling the rise in cases.

Named AY4.2, the strain is an offshoot of the Delta variant and is currently seen in nearly one in ten Covid cases.

It made up just 4 per cent of UK infections in mid-September but by the first week of October had doubled to nearly 10 per cent.

Scientists say it is ‘steadily increasing’ in numbers and appears to be 10 per cent more infectious than the original Delta variant. 

A report by the Health Security Agency said it has been spotted in nearly every part of England.

Downing Street said it was keeping a close eye on the variant but that there was not enough evidence to prove it spreads more easily.

Despite rising case numbers the Sage scientific advisory committee is meeting only once a month when it used to do so weekly.

Sajid Javid admitted yesterday that the NHS was facing a ‘particularly tough’ winter. Raising the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions, the Health Secretary told MPs there was huge pressure on hospitals and too few staff to respond to 999 calls. 

He added: ‘Usually winters are tough for the NHS but this winter is going to be particularly tough. The pandemic is still ongoing, this flu season will be particularly tough.’

Boris Johnson has set out a ‘Plan B’ for further restrictions – including compulsory masks, vaccine passports and working from home. 

This is likely to be implemented if hospital admissions consistently top 1,000 a day. 

Yesterday’s figure was 921, up from 780 a week ago.

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘We have seen case rates rising, we’ve started to see some indications that hospitalisations and death rates are increasing also.

‘We’re keeping a very close eye on rising case rates. 

‘The most important message to understand is the vital importance of the booster programme and indeed for those children who are eligible to come forward and get our jab.’

England is one of the few countries in Europe to have completely scrapped all legal coronavirus restrictions, such as masks. 

Later this week the Government will launch a publicity blitz to drive booster uptake.

Latest Office for National Statistics data shows nearly one in ten children aged 12 to 15 have the virus. At the same time just 15 per cent of eligible pupils in England have had a jab.

MPs extended Covid emergency powers for another six months yesterday. Mr Javid told the Commons that the measures were ‘still necessary and proportionate’.

Record 111,000 pupils off school as cases soar 

A record 111,000 pupils were absent with Covid last week after cases in schools almost doubled since the start of term.

Official figures show a rise of 9,000 in a fortnight and 52,000 in a month, as the vast majority of the school-age population remains unvaccinated. 

Take-up of jabs among 12 to 15-year-olds is just 5 per cent in some areas.

Unions last night called for more restrictions, including forcing siblings of infected children to self-isolate.

Some 209,000 – 2.6 per cent of all pupils – were absent last Thursday for Covid-related reasons, with 111,000 confirmed cases.

Among teachers, 1.3 per cent were absent with a confirmed case. 

Geoff Barton, of the ASCL union, said: ‘The rise in staff absence may appear fractional but the reality is that it is now causing real headaches.’

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