UK

Booster drive chaos as over-40s say they’re being TURNED AWAY at clinics

The UK’s booster drive was still embroiled in chaos today with Britons ready to roll up their sleeves and get a third jab turned away despite ministers pleading with people over 40 to get a top-up vaccine as soon as possible.

Images of massive queues at vaccine centres were also met with reports that people over 40-years-of-age who were urged yesterday to book a booster appointment on the NHS website after the wait-time for jabs was slashed to three months are being turned away.

A number took to social media to report they had been sent away even after booking their appointment with the NHS, after being told they still had to wait six months between jabs.   

The latest blow to the beleaguered booster drive came after experts demanded Boris Johnson throw the ‘kitchen sink’ at the rollout and allow 8million under 40s who got their second jab over three months ago to book their third jab, stating delays will cost lives and livelihoods. 

Currently only over-40s who had their second jab more than three months ago are being invited for their booster, but fresh reports today indicate that some vaccine providers are still sticking to the old guidance of a six month gap.

The UK has pinned its hopes on avoiding a catastrophic Omicron super wave of cases on the booster programme with even the controversial ‘Plan B’ restrictions introduced by the Prime Minister last night meant to buy time for as many people to get boosted as possible. 

Experts have now called for Government to ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at the booster drive and open it up to all age groups saying the current sluggish pace will cost both lives and livelihoods.  

As he unveiled the new ‘Plan B’ restrictions last night, Mr Johnson outlined how boosters were the country’s best line of defence against the new super spreading Covid variant and the best chance of a normal Christmas.

The new restrictions on Britons’ lives, such as working from home guidance, compulsory mask orders, and proof of vaccination to attend events, are to slow the spread of Omicron so more booster jabs can be delivered.

Massive queues at jabbing centres come alongside reports that some Britons who booked their booster appointment online are being turned away by staff telling them they need to wait six months between jabs, despite the NHS saying the wait is now three months

According to NHS data, many older age groups who have been eligible to get a Covid booster since September still have double digit percentage figures of people who are yet to get a third dose. Yesterday, the NHS online booking system for Covid boosters was opened up to the over 40s. 81 per cent of people aged 40-to-49 have yet to have a booster.

According to NHS data, many older age groups who have been eligible to get a Covid booster since September still have double digit percentage figures of people who are yet to get a third dose. Yesterday, the NHS online booking system for Covid boosters was opened up to the over 40s. 81 per cent of people aged 40-to-49 have yet to have a booster. 

No10 has pledged to offer a booster to all 53million adults in the UK by the end of January, but at the current rate it would take until early March to meet this goal.   

The effort has suffered a fresh blow today as Britons keen to get their booster were turned away by staff at vaccination centres citing old guidance that said people needed to wait six months between jabs.

José from London was furious about being turned away from the appointment he booked via the NSH website.

‘I have just been turned away from my booster appointment, despite having booked in accordance with guidance (over 40 and over 3 months since dose 2). Apparently the centre I booked is only following old guidance which requires 182 days since dose 2 (I am 3 days away from that but still got turned away).,’ he wrote.

‘However the NHS site allowed me to book for this centre!’

This NHS graphic showing uptake of second dose by age group shows the vast majority (over 70 per cent) of over 50s received their second jab in May, followed by the majority of over 40s in mid-August. More half of over 30s had received their second dose of the Covid vaccine in the final week of August. Under the new three month wait between jabs rule, millions more people are now technically eligible for a Covid booster, but younger groups have no way to book one

This NHS graphic showing uptake of second dose by age group shows the vast majority (over 70 per cent) of over 50s received their second jab in May, followed by the majority of over 40s in mid-August. More half of over 30s had received their second dose of the Covid vaccine in the final week of August. Under the new three month wait between jabs rule, millions more people are now technically eligible for a Covid booster, but younger groups have no way to book one

The current rate of the booster rollout means Britain will miss the deadline to offer every eligible adult a Covid booster shot by the end January, instead hitting this target by 10 February

The current rate of the booster rollout means Britain will miss the deadline to offer every eligible adult a Covid booster shot by the end January, instead hitting this target by 10 February

At a Downing Street press conference last night, the PM declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs

At a Downing Street press conference last night, the PM declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs

The data comes a day after a new study showing a third dose of Pfizer could effectively beat Omicron sparking hope that the booster campaign could thwart the super variant if enough jabs are rolled out.

As of yesterday, everyone over the age of 40-years-old, and who had their second vaccine at least two months ago can book a Covid booster via the NHS website to have it scheduled for when the three month wait period expires.

However, this leaves 8.2million under 40s who have had their second vaccine by September 1 this year no way to book a Covid booster.  Of this cohort, 4.5million are over 30 and 3.7million are aged between 18-and-29-years-of-age.

What are the new Covid rules in England?

WFH

The return of work from home guidance. People will be told to work from home in England from Monday if they are able to.

Face mask

Face masks will be made compulsory in most public indoor venues including in cinemas and theatres from this Friday. They will not be required in pubs, restaurants and gyms.

Vaccine passports 

The NHS Covid pass will be compulsory to gain access to nightclubs and other large venues where large crowds gather. 

This will apply to all unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people. 

Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme. 

A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient. 

This requirement will be rolled out in one week’s time to give businesses time to prepare. 

Contact testing 

Contacts of Omicron cases will be told to take daily coronavirus tests instead of having to self-isolate. They will have to quarantine if they test positive. 

In total, across all age groups, there are nearly 18million people in England who are eligible for a booster under the three month waiting rule for jabs, but who have not got one. 

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute described the booster campaign as the only real way the UK could fend off Omicron, arguing the new ‘Plan B’ restrictions won’t turn the rising tide. 

‘The booster programme is the only game in town. Omicron is spreading and new restrictions will barely have a dent,’ he said.   

‘But, by all indications, it is a mild disease for those who have had three vaccine doses. 

‘Yet the NHS has entirely failed to accelerate boosters since Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a few weeks ago. 

‘We are not on track to offer a booster to all adults by the end of January, and in any case, that could be too late considering the speed of the new variant.

Mr Lesh said the sluggish pace of the rollout will cause both deaths and economic devastation, adding it was a ‘no-brainer’ to focus all available resources on boosting the booster drive. 

‘The failure to accelerate the booster programme will cost lives and livelihoods,’ he said.

‘The new restrictions and guidance are going to cost our economy billions of pounds.

‘It’s an absolute no-brainer to throw the kitchen sink at getting boosters into arms as quickly as possible. We need a national war effort.’

He added that the NHS Covid booster booking system should be opened up to all eligible people, regardless of age, immediately referencing the fact that the country has enough Covid jabs to support such a move. 

‘The booking system should have been already opened up to all age groups, as the prime minister said would happen weeks ago,’ he said. 

‘Anyone over three months since their second dose should be able to access a third immediately. There’s no longer supply issues, it’s all logistics, and can be done.’

Other experts however urged caution in such a move, stating that while the booster campaign definitely needed to be expanded, opening up the system to all age groups would create chaos, and that the country needed to prioritise those who’s immunity was waning the most. 

Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology from the University of Reading, said: ‘If the government just threw open the doors to the booster programme for all adults that could create chaos where people who have only recently been vaccinated take the places of people whose immunity is likely to have dropped much more.

‘It’s far better, I think, to copy the gradual release of boosters, but to work through the age groups as quickly as possible.’ 

There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England

There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England

In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent

In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent

According to NHS data, approximately 36 per cent of the population in England have received a Covid booster, but this varies widely across age demographics. 

Pfizer’s booster vaccine CAN beat Omicron

Pfizer‘s Covid booster vaccine triggers a 25-fold spike in antibody levels against Omicron, the drug firm claimed today but it admitted two doses may not be enough to thwart the mutant strain.

The vaccine manufacturer argued three injections provide a ‘more robust’ defence against the variant, which has sown chaos since it was first identified in South Africa last month.

A third jab triggers a similar antibody response against Omicron as two doses against previous strains of Covid, according to preliminary laboratory tests. It also ‘strongly increases’ T cell levels, offering the immune system an extra boost to protect against severe disease. 

But Pfizer also insisted that two doses should still be enough to slash rates of hospitalisations and deaths, in the event of fresh waves triggered by the super-mutant strain.

And millions of doses of a new version of its vaccine tailored to the mutant strain — which has already been developed — can be ready by March if the current crop of jabs do not provide enough protection against Omicron. Pfizer’s boss said they will know within weeks if it is needed and all of its production can be switched to the new vaccine. 

 It comes as two separate studies released today show that vaccines appear to work better than expected against Omicron, which is quickly spreading in Britain and has left No10 on the brink of resorting to its ‘Plan B’ to save the NHS from being overwhelmed this winter.

A South African research institute found people fully-vaccinated with Pfizer make up to 40-times fewer antibodies against Omicron compared to other variants. But the lead author of the research, the first of four laboratory-based studies released in the last 24 hours, insisted the results are ‘better than expected’.

Another study by Swedish virologists also found there is a drop in the body’s ability to neutralise Omicron after jabs. But the Karolinska Institute researchers insisted the decline was not seen in everyone, with one of the paper authors saying the fall was ‘lower than feared’. 

Meanwhile, a World Health Organization official insisted the vaccines should still work against Omicron, admitting that the strain appears to be milder than its rivals, such as Beta and Delta. 

Dr Michael Ryan, the agency’s emergencies director, argued the current jabs ‘have proved effective against all the variants so far’ in preventing severe disease. He added that ‘there’s no reason to expect’ vaccines would suddenly fail against Omicron.  

People aged between 70-79 were the most likely to receive their booster, with 86 per cent having done so as of December 8, based on National Immunisation Management System (NIMS) population estimates used by the NHS. 

In terms of sheer numbers of boosters, the 60-69 age demographic recorded the most, with 4,398,841 third jabs as of yesterday, but this is only 68 per cent of this group. 

There are multiple ways of estimating the population of England for vaccine uptake purposes. One of these is NIMS which records people registered with the NHS and is updated weekly.

However the NHS says this data set can overestimate population and therefore underestimate vaccine uptake as there is a lag between people registering with the NHS when they move, and could be counted twice, or have died and the record has not caught up.  

The booster campaign launched in September, starting with the older groups, in response to the discovery that the protection offered by vaccines began to wane six months after the second dose of the jab was given.

The aim was to offer people additional protection ahead of what was predicted to be a difficult winter for the NHS. 

However, this was ramped up significantly when Omicron burst onto the scene just a few weeks ago, with ministers promising to speed up the rollout and expand it to more groups in attempt to ward off a similar wave of cases to the one the UK experienced following the emergence of Delta. 

Despite the ramp-up being launched with much aplomb, the behemoth booster campaign has so failed to speed up and has in fact performed worse on some days than prior to ministers’ promises to put it on ‘steroids’.  

But this week Mr Johnson has insisted the Covid booster campaign was actually going faster than planned, despite data showing the country is still nowhere near meeting his 500,000-a-day target.  

When questioned about the speed of the booster programme, Mr Johnson claimed it was actually ahead of schedule, before adding it could go faster .

He told reporters: ‘The booster programme is the fastest in Europe, and I think we’ve done more boosters than any comparable country. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t go faster. 

The latest NHS data shows the UK is nowhere near the 500,000-a-day goal and is in fact delivering fewer booster jabs on some days than before Mr Johnson’s pledge.

Data has laid bare the sluggishness of the booster programme with only 391,050 jabs given on Tuesday, the date for which the latest figures are available.

Despite promises to ramp up the scale of the booster rollout the is only about 10,000 more jabs than the same day last week, when 318,671 were given. 

At the current speed of 2.7million per week, it will take until mid-February for every eligible Briton to be offered get their third Covid vaccine, almost two weeks after the Government’s end of January deadline. 

News of ‘Plan B’ measures came as new a new study suggested that the booster campaign could thwart Omicron if enough jabs are rolled out. 

A study by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer showed a third dose of its jab provided the same level of protection against Omicron as two doses against the original strain of Covid. 

But Pfizer also insisted that two doses should still be enough to slash rates of hospitalisations and deaths, in the event of fresh waves triggered by the super-mutant strain. 

The PM dramatically triggered ‘Plan B’ measures to control the rampant Omicron strain at a press conference last night, with fears that infections are now doubling every few days and the NHS could be crippled.  

Why has the booster campaign been so slow? 

Since launching in September the Covid booster campaign has failed to take off at the same speed as the initial vaccine rollout. 

This is partly due to the number of staff and facilities being involved in the booster campaign being dramatically less than the resources committed to vaccine efforts earlier in the year.

Mass vaccination centres have been replaced by smaller teams in GP surgeries and pharmacies.  

And despite minister urging people to come forward when they were eligible  people seeking boosters have reported struggling to book jabs or being given appointment slots at inconvenient times or distant locations. 

Vaccine supply is not considered to be an issue in the rollout.

Millions of office staff will be urged to work from home from Monday, while masks will be required in theatres and cinemas, and Covid passports are being introduced for nightclubs and large venues.

But Mr Johnson stressed that office Christmas parties should go ahead, sparking derision from critics. Desperate businesses have complained that the differing restrictions for venues ‘don’t make any sense’. 

Dozens of Conservative MPs are now threatening to rebel against the measures when a Commons vote is held next week – although support from Labour means they will still pass. 

Backbencher Marcus Fysh said today that the latest curbs are an ‘utter disgrace’, while former chief whip Mark Harper has questioned whether the government has the moral authority to impose the limits given the row over rules being flouted in Downing Street.

There was a further setback when the NHS Covid pass website crashed for several hours last night.   

In signs of Cabinet tensions, Sajid Javid this morning dismissed a hint from the PM that mandatory vaccination might be looked at in future, saying that would be ‘ethically wrong’.

And the Health Secretary revealed that he refused to continue with a scheduled round of broadcast interviews yesterday because he was ‘upset’ by the bombshell video of No10 aides giggling about an alleged lockdown-busting festive gathering last year. 

Mr Javid insisted it is ‘proportionate’ to urge people not to go to the office  

The scale of the damage to the Tories from the partying revelations, which followed the sleaze row, has been underlined with a poll showing 63 per cent of voters think the PM should resign. 

Labour also had a four-point lead in the Redfield & Wilton poll, the largest since the 2019 general election. 

At a downbeat Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said the new restrictions were a ‘proportionate and responsible’ reaction to a surge in Omicron cases. 

But he faced accusations that he had accelerated the move to Plan B restrictions in order to shift the news agenda away from public outrage over claims that No10 staff held a Christmas party last December in defiance of tough lockdown rules.

William Wragg, Tory chairman of the Commons public administration committee, called the move a ‘diversionary tactic’. Other MPs asked how the Government could expect people to abide by Covid rules when No10 staff were accused of recklessly breaking them.

Many Conservative backbenchers were also furious over the likely economic impact of the new curbs, with some even heckling Health Secretary Sajid Javid in the Commons to shouts of ‘resign’.

The public appeared to have already voted with their feet today as pictures showed London stations eerily quiet. 


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