The six month wait between the second dose of a Covid-19 and a booster could be cut down to five, it has been suggested.
Ministers and health experts are reportedly debating whether to shorten the delay to help speed up the vaccine rollout ahead of winter.
What has been said?
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the six month period between doses was an “extremely important point” and stressed the need to “keep going as fast as possible” to deliver the boosters.
During a visit to Northern Ireland, he said: “On the issue of timing, all I will say is I think we just need to keep going as fast as possible.”
The government has said the decision whether to change the time interval between doses is a matter for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to advise on.
Under current guidance, the third dose must be given no earlier than six months after the second dose of any coronavirus vaccine, the JCVI has said.
After this point, those who are eligible will be notified by text, letter or by their GP to book an appointment.
Criticising the long delay, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Does it really matter when it’s only nine weeks until the Christmas holidays if someone has their booster jab after five months?
“And should we not look at whether there should be flexibility in that decision so we can get more people in more quickly for their booster jabs?”
Calls to get vaccinated as cases surge
The debate to reduce the waiting time comes as ministers urged those who are eligible to come forward for their third dose, following warnings that Covid-19 infections could reach 100,000 per day this winter.
The government is relying on the success of the vaccination programme to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed, but uptake of booster doses has so far failed to match the enthusiasm of the initial vaccination programme.
Mr Johnson stressed that, unlike the early stages of the vaccine rollout, there were no problems with supply of doses, but instead “it’s a demand issue”.However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said a record 234,000 booster vaccine bookings were made on Wednesday (20 October), suggesting demand may be picking up.
Mr Javid warned if people do not get vaccinated it is more likely that restrictions will be tightened and Plan B could be put in place.
He said: “I think we’ve been really clear that we’ve all got a role to play.
“If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer, the five million I’ve talked about that remain unvaccinated, if they don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should in a really crowded place with lots of people that they don’t normally hang out with, if they’re not washing their hands and stuff, it’s going to hit us all.
“And it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions.”
How do I book my booster jab?
In England, people should receive a letter or a text inviting them to book their booster vaccine dose when they are eligible.
Once you have been invited to book, you can do so online via the NHS national booking system.
You can only book your booster jab online if you have been contacted by the NHS and you are either:
- aged 50 and over
- aged 16 and over with a health condition that puts you at high risk from Covid-19
The booking system will only allow you to book your third dose if it has been at least six months since you received your second jab.
You should wait to be contacted by the NHS before booking your booster. You may be asked to book this online or at a local NHS service, such as your GP surgery.
If you have had a positive Covid-19 test, you will need to wait four weeks before booking your booster from the date you had the test.
If you are in Scotland, the NHS inform website features a handy tool which explains how you will be invited for your booster vaccination.
In Wales, you will be contacted by your health board when it is your turn to book your jab. You should not contact your GP to ask about appointments.
In Northern Ireland, the booster programme has already started with residents and staff in care homes being offered a dose. GPs will shortly be starting to invite their older patients in first to receive their booster. You should wait until you are contacted to book an appointment.