Over 50s will be able to have booster jabs earlier than planned in race to beat virus

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And as ministers look to get the vaccine rollout back on track, nearly two million invitations for the vaccine will be sent out by the NHS this week.

Last night, anyone receiving an message for the third jab was urged to come forward as soon as possible to get “crucial protection” amid rising infection numbers.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid ordered NHS chiefs to tweak the system for booking/receiving a booster jab.

He asked that the over-50s be allowed to book their third jab a month earlier, allowing them to get the jab the day after their six-month immunisation date passes.

Previously, they couldn’t ask for a booster until the half-year period was up – and then had to wait an average of 18 days to get their appointment.

The delay is believed to be a key factor in why only just over five million out of the 9.3 million eligible people in England have so far received the third dose.

NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Winter is coming and infection rates are rising and so it’s now really important that everyone receiving their invite for a booster vaccine from the NHS books in at one of the convenient vaccinations sites around the country offering this crucial, additional protection.

“Thanks to NHS staff, nine in 10 people have had a first dose, saving tens of thousands of lives and now more than five million boosters have been delivered in the first month of the rollout.

“I would urge anyone receiving an invite this week to book in as soon as possible. The booster dose is proven to significantly increase protection against Covid and will provide vital protection this winter.”

The revamping of the booster system rollout comes as Mr Javid plans to enforce laws to make Covid vaccines mandatory for all NHS workers.

He wants to make them a “condition of employment” as soon as possible.

Downing Street advisers have also examined whether the six-month period between the second jab and the booster should be shortened.

But it was concluded the period is still the “sweet spot” which maximises the boost to immunity levels.

Latest figures show that more than 800,000 people have had their Covid-19 booster jab in the past 72 hours.

Saturday was the biggest day on record with 325,140 jabs administered. But the over-50s move comes amid signs of growing tensions in Whitehall over the slow take-up of boosters and jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds, which has coincided with a sharp rise in infections and hospital admissions. And there was a reminder yesterday that vaccinations are not enough to bring the disease under control.

Professor Adam Finn, who is on the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation, said that while jabs are very effective at stopping people from getting seriously ill, they are not so effective at stopping infections altogether or stopping the virus from spreading.

He said: “They do have an effect on that, but they’re not by themselves going to be enough at the present time to keep the spread of the virus under control.

“And so we do need to see people continuing to make efforts to avoid contact, to avoid transmission, and to do other things as well as get vaccinated if we’re going to stop this rise from going up further.” Prof Finn added: “I would re-emphasise that the vaccine programme by itself, even if things go optimally, is not, in my opinion, enough to bring things under control.

“We do need to have people using lateral flow tests, avoiding contact with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces, using masks, all of those things now need to happen if we’re going to stop this rise and get things under control soon enough to stop a real meltdown in the middle of the winter.”

The UK has recorded another 39,962 Covid cases in the latest 24 hour period, while the death toll is 72 – up by more than a quarter in seven days.

It breaks a cycle of 11 consecutive days in a row where new infections remained above 40,000 across Britain, amid fears of a fresh wave as winter approaches.

The figures, released yesterday by the Department of Health, see an 11 percent case drop compared with last Sunday, when there were 44,985 recorded. The boosters are intended to deal with waning immunity among groups which first received the vaccines at the start of the year – but the number administered each day has been a fraction of the rate during the initial programme.

And the jabs will not be rolled out to the under-50s until a greater proportion of the older age group have been double jabbed, currently expected to be early next year.

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