Covid booster vaccines: NHS urges millions to get jab as hospital admissions rise

People aged 65 and over can book a slot for a booster vaccine. Credit: PA

The NHS is urging millions of people to get a winter Covid vaccine to boost their protection against the virus, as a new variant drives up hospital admissions.

Around 20 million people in the UK will be eligible for a Covid vaccine, including all those aged 65 and over, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions.

People aged 65 and over can book a slot for a booster jab on the NHS website, or by calling 119. Vaccines will soon be provided to more vulnerable groups for free.

NHS Director for Vaccinations and Screening, Steve Russell said: “Vaccines are our best protection against flu and Covid-19, and I strongly encourage all eligible people to come forward for their lifesaving winter vaccines as soon as they can.

“The new Covid variant presents a new risk, but NHS staff are rising to the challenge once more to do all they can to protect the public."

The rollout has been brought forward as a precaution against the latest Omicron subvariant of Covid-19, BA.2.86, which was first identified in the UK on August 18.

Covid hospital admissions in England are at their highest rate since the end of April, in a fresh sign the virus is likely to be circulating more widely among the population.

Dr Renu Bindra, UKHSA incident director, said that while BA.2.86 has a “significant number of mutations” compared with other variants circulating among the population, the data so far is “too limited to draw firm conclusions” about the impact this will have on the severity of the virus.

She added: “It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this.

“In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.”

Hospital admissions of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 stood at 4.6 per 100,000 people in the week to September 10, up from 3.7 per 100,000 the previous week and the highest since the week ending April 30, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

This is still some way below the level reached at Christmas 2022, when the rate stood at 11.8 per 100,000, and is also well below the figures seen during the first year of the pandemic.

The rate has been on a clear upwards trend for the past two months, however.

Many health commentators have said that last winter was one of the worst on record for the NHS and hospital bosses have been planning for months to prevent the same happening this winter.

The NHS winter vaccine programme has been brought forward due to a spike in Covid hospital admissions. Credit: PA

Mr Russell added: “Those eligible can now easily book a Covid vaccine online – it takes just a few minutes and there are more sites than ever before offering the vaccine across England, so please come forward as soon as you can to give yourself and your loved ones vital protection over the coming months.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA, said: “We are already seeing a slow rise in cases of Covid-19, as well as increases in hospitalisations, particularly among the over 75s.

“Older people and those in clinical risk groups remain at higher risk of severe illness, so it’s important all those eligible come forward when offered and get protected against flu and Covid.”

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