The government is urging people to come forward for a Covid-19 booster jab – when invited to do so – to increase protection levels as the UK enters the winter season.
By the end of Sunday, it is expected that 20 million people will have received a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
As of 3 December, 51 million people across the UK had received a first dose of a vaccine, while 46.5 million had received two doses, and 19.8 million had received three doses.
In light of the new omicron variant, the government has expanded its Covid-19 booster programme. All adults who are over the age of 18 and received a second dose of a coronavirus vaccine at least three months ago are now eligible for a booster shot to top-up their immunity. This halves the six-month window between second and third doses that was initially proposed for booster jabs.
Priority will be given to vulnerable groups first, who have already been invited to come forward for a third jab. Adults over the age of 40 will soon be invited to book an appointment for their third jab, followed by younger age groups in the coming weeks. The government expects that everyone eligible should be offered a booster jab by the end of January.
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: “While our brilliant scientists learn more about the new omicron variant, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our defences and vaccines are the best way to do that.
“This is a national mission and we all have a role to play – so roll up your sleeves and get protected as soon as you can.”
He added that with Christmas around the corner, it was “absolutely crucial” for everyone who is eligible to come forward for a booster to increase immunity before spending time with relatives.
Some 400 military personnel have been drafted to support the booster jab programme across 1,500 pharmacy, hospital and pop-up vaccination sites across the country. GPs, community pharmacies and primary care staff will also receive additional support to enhance programme capacity.
Vaccines minister Maggie Throup said that the administering 20 million booster jabs was “another brilliant milestone”.
She also thanked GPs, pharmacists, NHS staff and volunteers who had been involved in the vaccination campaign, before urging anyone eligible to come forward for first, second or third doses.
Over the summer, the government conducted the first real-world study on the effectiveness of booster doses against the delta variant. Data from this study found that among adults aged 50 and above, top-up jabs restored protection levels to over 90 per cent against symptomatic Covid two weeks after being vaccinated.
Data from the CovBoost trial, published on 3 December, found that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines provided the best overall immune response in booster jabs. The government has therefore secured contracts with both companies for 60 million and 54 million doses respectively, to future-proof the UK’s vaccine programme.
While it remains unknown whether existing vaccines are as effective against the omicron variant, the government’s deals with Moderna and Pfizer include access to modified vaccines, should they be needed to combat omicron or future variants of concern.