Q&A: So why HAS our world-beating jab programme hit the buffers?
What’s going wrong with the booster programme?
It’s too slow. The UK led the world in approving and delivering the first Covid jabs, but only half of the eight million currently eligible have had a booster since the programme began on September 16.
Thirty million over-50s and those with underlying health problems will become eligible for a top-up dose six months after their second jab. But at the current pace of 200,000 booster jabs a day – compared with 400,000 during the peak of the first drive – it will take until March to finish the job.
NHS England admitted it had sent out only 5.5 million invitations, and promised to despatch a further two million last week
Are those in charge to blame?
There’s been a change at the top. The departure of those credited with the first rollout’s success – Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi and Kate Bingham, who led the Vaccines Taskforce – means it’s now in the hands of Maggie Throup, described as having ‘all the verve of cotton wool’.
NHS England admitted it had sent out only 5.5 million invitations, and promised to despatch a further two million last week.
It’s telling that the Government has brought back Emily Lawson, who ran the initial jab drive.
Is the public becoming complacent about Covid risks?
Only partly. Many are unaware that protection wanes over time, which may account for the lacklustre booster uptake.
When the first vaccines were rolled out, they were seen as a way out of lockdown and vital for saving lives. But some experts believe the advantages of a booster have been less clearly explained.
Pharmacists in Manchester told the BBC they had capacity for ‘600 or 700’ jabs a day but only 100 takers. However, surveys show that 82 per cent of us would take an extra shot if offered. And many of those eligible have not yet been invited to book a jab.
Are the public confused about how to get the jab?
When the booster programme was announced, people were told to wait to be invited by the NHS.
Ministers last week backtracked, telling eligible people they could book a jab online or via 119, even without an invitation. But there was more confusion when the NHS booking website was not initially updated, and continued to say only those with an invitation could book a jab. From today, eligible people will be able to book their booster weeks before it is due.
Why can’t GPs give out the jabs?
In the first rollout, GPs delivered 75 per cent of all innoculations. This time, many practices have opted out, complaining of patient backlogs and having to administer the flu vaccine. Doctors were also asked to continue routine care, which they weren’t first time.
Can’t it be given with the flu jab?
Yes. Studies show it’s safe and they’re licensed to be given together. But there are practical constraints, including patients having to be monitored for 15 minutes after the jab, which GPs don’t have the capacity to deal with.
What’s happened to my local vaccine centre?
Many church halls or ‘pop-up’ vaccine clinics have been closed in favour of pharmacies and larger out-of-town venues. Doctors say ease of access may be affecting uptake. And there are fewer volunteers helping. However, figures show the number of vaccine centres overall has risen from 1,543 in February to 2,205.
Is online booking working?
Yes, but there have been glitches. Some eligible people with invitations have been wrongly informed by the NHS booking website that they can’t yet book a jab. This is understood to have been put right, but call 119 if you are having difficulty.
The Government has pledged 100 million doses to Third World countries, but says this will not affect our booster programme
Is there a shortage of booster vaccines?
No. The Government ordered 60 million booster doses, and about 20 million are stockpiled. Orders are also in for new vaccines from Valneva and Novavax, which will become available once approved.
The Government has pledged 100 million doses to Third World countries, but says this will not affect our booster programme.
Is there a postcode lottery?
Unfortunately, yes. Because some GPs have opted out, some areas have fewer vaccine clinics. There is no data yet on which regions are performing best, but the Midlands has delivered over 800,000 jabs – 40 per cent more than in the South West and East of England. Vaccine hesitancy will also affect uptake. In Leicester, Luton and parts of London with large South Asian and black populations, only 50 to 60 per cent are fully vaccinated.