NHS to roll out variant-busting Covid booster jab from September

·5 min read

The NHS is to start the rollout of the new variant-busting Covid-19 jab in the first full week of September as part of the autumn booster programme.

NHS England said care home residents and people who are housebound will be among the first to be vaccinated as the rollout begins from September 5. A wider rollout is due to start on September 12.

The UK became the first country in the world to approve Moderna’s bivalent vaccine, which targets both the original strain of the virus and the Omicron variant, but it was reported the country does not have enough doses to offer the new jab to all people eligible for the booster.

However, ministers said the 26 million people across England who are eligible for an autumn booster will have access to one of the next-generation jabs in line with guidance set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on Monday.

NHS England said people will be offered the next-generation bivalent vaccine where appropriate and subject to sufficient supply.

As with previous campaigns, the oldest and most vulnerable will be called first, with people able to book online or through 119 as long as it has been three months since their last dose.

Up to 3,000 sites are expected to be part of the rollout, including GP practices and community pharmacies, and new venues may be added to the scheme.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The NHS was the first healthcare system in the world to deliver a Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials, and will now be the first to deliver the new, variant-busting vaccine when the rollout begins at the start of September.”

More than 126 million Covid vaccines have been administered by NHS staff and volunteers since the first jab was delivered, outside of clinical trials, to Maggie Keenan in Coventry in December 2020.

Ms Pritchard said: “Our fantastic NHS staff have worked incredibly hard to deliver 126 million doses to date and behind the scenes they have once again been preparing to deliver the latest phase with the same speed and precision as we have had throughout the rollout.”

She urged anyone who is invited to take up both an autumn booster and flu jab, “to do so as quickly as possible – it will give you maximum protection this winter”.

The NHS will also be rolling out the flu vaccine and encouraging eligible people to take up the offer from the first of the month where possible.

It means that some people may be offered approved doses of the flu and Covid jab which can be given at the same time.

NHS director for vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said: “This winter will be the first time we see the real effects of both Covid and flu in full circulation as we go about life as normal – and so it is vital that those most susceptible to serious illness from these viruses come forward for the latest jab in order to protect themselves.

“We know that our GPs and community pharmacies have been integral to the success of the NHS Vaccination Programme due to their locations and relationships with local communities, and so it is fantastic that so many have opted to be part of the latest phase of the campaign.”

The National Booking Service is set to open during the week of September 5. It will see the NHS invite those who are most susceptible to serious illness from Covid-19 and those aged 75 and over to book an appointment from that week.

Mr Russell said the NHS will contact people when it is their turn to get an autumn booster and will be inviting the first people outside of care homes to book in ahead of the formal rollout in early September.

The NHS will continue to advise local sites to allow immunosuppressed patients to self-declare and attend walk-ins to make getting the extra protection as easy as possible.

Health and social care staff will also be able to get the autumn booster.

All providers are being asked to ensure their staff are offered the autumn jab, potentially alongside the flu jab.

The JCVI and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have said the original vaccines continue to provide good protection and people should come forward regardless of the vaccine offered.

The autumn booster campaign is among a package of NHS measures to prepare for winter, including ramping up bed capacity and increasing the number of 999 and NHS 111 staff to deal with any additional pressure.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “While our world-leading Covid vaccination programme has saved countless lives and enabled us to live with this virus, we cannot be complacent about the threat it poses this winter.”

He added: “Vaccines offer the best defence against the virus and will help relieve pressure on the NHS at its most difficult time of year, so I encourage all those eligible to come forward as soon as they are contacted by the NHS.”