The NHS’s Covid booster drive was thrown into yet more chaos today, with eligible over-40s unable to book their appointments until Christmas Eve.
People in the age group who had their second dose at least three weeks ago were invited to book their top-up jabs yesterday as part of No10’s drive to reach all adults by the end of January to fight off the Omicron variant.
But pictures shared with MailOnline show some have been left unable to secure a vital booster via the health service’s website for at least another two weeks.
One man in his 40s, living in Hemel Hempstead, was unable to get his booster until December 24 — the earliest available appointment in his area.
NHS England has been approached for comment.
The booster programme has been fraught with difficulties throughout the rollout, with people under-40 getting boosters in defiance of NHS guidelines.
And scores of over-40s have been turned away from appointments booked online, forcing health service officials to crack down and stop clinics rejecting anyone who is eligible.
The NHS ‘s Covid booster drive has been thrown into yet more chaos today with eligible over-40s unable to book their appointments until Christmas Eve
Scores of Britons queue at St Thomas’ Hospital in London this morning to receive the Covid booster jab
Boosters DO beat Omicron and cut risk of falling ill by 75%
Booster Covid jabs offer up to 75 per cent protection against mild disease caused by the super Omicron variant, official UK Government analysis revealed tonight.
Experts are confident that three doses will offer significantly higher immunity against severe illness and death from the highly-evolved strain.
In people who had their second dose more than three months ago, effectiveness against symptomatic disease could be lower than 40 per cent, according to the real-world analysis.
But officials stress that even two vaccines should still offer high protection against severe illness, in the most promising sign yet that the incoming wave of hospital admissions and deaths will not surpass previous peaks.
The UK Health Security Agency looked at 581 people with confirmed Omicron and compared their vaccine status to a control group of people who tested positive for Delta.
It estimated that a Pfizer booster provides between 70 and 75 per cent protection against mild Omicron illness, regardless of which vaccine was originally used, compared to 90 per cent for Delta.
Two doses of Pfizer may offer just 37 per cent protection after three-and-a-half months compared to 60 per cent for Delta.
Two shots of AstraZeneca offered virtually no protection after the same amount of time.
But the scientists caution that data for AstraZeneca was less reliable due to the fact the vaccine was restricted in some age groups and typically used at the very start of the initial vaccine rollout in vulnerable people.
Critics have slammed the rollout for being too sluggish, with the NHS yet to reach the Government’s target of getting out 500,000 a day.
Staff and volunteers are currently dishing out around 380,000 a day, with 469,479 third doses given out yesterday according to official data.
Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute thinktank, described the booster campaign as the only real way the UK could fend off Omicron, arguing the new ‘Plan B’ restrictions won’t turn the rising tide.
‘The failure to accelerate the booster programme will cost lives and livelihoods,’ he said.
‘The new restrictions and guidance are going to cost our economy billions of pounds.
‘It’s an absolute no-brainer to throw the kitchen sink at getting boosters into arms as quickly as possible. We need a national war effort.’
Currently only over-40s can use the online booking system to pencil in a top-up jab, yet plans are in pace to expand the programme to all eligible adults next week.
Mr Lesh added: ‘The booking system should have been already opened up to all age groups, as the Prime Minister said would happen weeks ago.
‘Anyone over three months since their second dose should be able to access a third immediately.
‘There’s no longer supply issues, it’s all logistics, and can be done.’
GPs involved in the scheme have began texting thirty-somethings, inviting them to make appointments, defying the NHS guidance.
Some claim to have been able to get scheduled in within 36 hours.
Anyone given their second jab three months ago can get a walk-in booster, even if they are under-40 and can’t officially book.
And those who were last vaccinated six months ago, the original gap between doses, will still be invited through the normal channels, regardless of their age.
While there are concerns jabbing younger people ahead of older one could result in a postcode lottery, some experts have defended the move, stating it will help protect the public by boosting general immunity faster.
The current rate of the booster rollout means Britain will miss the deadline to offer every eligible adult a Covid booster shot by the end January, instead hitting this target by 10 February
According to NHS data, many older age groups who have been eligible to get a Covid booster since September still have double digit percentage figures of people who are yet to get a third dose. Yesterday, the NHS online booking system for Covid boosters was opened up to the over 40s. 81 per cent of people aged 40-to-49 have yet to have a booster.
8million under 40s are eligible for boosters under the three months between jabs rule
News of more chaos in the booster drive comes as experts demanded that more of England’s double-jabbed be offered the chance to get a booster as the MailOnline revealed that more than 8million under 40s could get booster today if the NHS let them book a jab.
A total of 8.2million people aged from 18-to-39 got their second jab by September 1, meaning under the three-month wait between jabs they would be able to get a booster.
NHS bosses still send out formal invites to patients, so people who got jabbed early on can still be vaccinated. Walk-in clinics are also open across the country.
But critics say opening up the online booking portal to under-40s would help speed up the drive.
In total, across all age groups, there are nearly 18million people in England who are eligible for a booster under the three month waiting rule for jabs, but who have not got one.
According to NHS data, approximately 36 per cent of the population in England have received a Covid booster, but this varies widely across age demographics.
People aged between 70-79 were the most likely to receive their booster, with 86 per cent having done so as of December 8, based on National Immunisation Management System (NIMS) population estimates used by the NHS.
In terms of sheer numbers of boosters, the 60-69 age demographic recorded the most, with 4,398,841 third jabs as of yesterday, but this is only 68 per cent of this group.
Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation, told The Guardian: ‘While the NHS’s focus remains on offering boosters to eligible people aged over 40 before the national booking system opens up more widely next week, we are aware that some primary care sites have begun to offer boosters to eligible people aged under 40 where they have spare appointments that have not been filled by the current cohorts and where they have sufficient vaccine stock.
‘The national guidance on the gap between doses is clear and that people should wait to be contacted by the NHS for their booster shots.’
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs also supported the move and said that family doctors could be trusted to use their discretion to give vaccines to younger people if capacity allowed.
‘We need to get as many jabs into as many arms as quickly as possible,’ he said.
‘It’s important that at-risk groups are prioritised so people should wait to be contacted before trying to book their booster.
‘However, it’s possible that some regions will be going at a quicker pace than others for varying reasons to do with capacity and workload and GPs will use their judgment in the best interests of their patients and the wider public’s health.
‘GPs and their teams are working incredibly hard to deliver the vaccination programme, as well as continuing to deliver essential care and services to patients, and we’d urge anyone who is offered the booster to have it.’
This is not the first time Covid vaccines have been offered to younger groups ahead of the age bracket priority.
Similar incidents happened in the initial vaccine rollout, typically at walk-in centres and when local providers had an excess of supply.
The latest fiasco in the booster campaign comes after NHS bosses launched a crack down last night on the booster jab chaos that has embroiled the country by telling clinics to stop turning away eligible Britons.
Scores complained on social media that they were wrongly sent away after booking their appointment online.
They claimed to have been told certain jab clinics couldn’t dish out the jabs because guidance wasn’t updated to reflect the fact boosters can be dished out after three months instead of six.
An NHS representative said: ‘NHS sites are expected to vaccinate those most at risk from coronavirus first in line with JCVI guidance, which at present is people aged 40 and over, as well as those with health conditions and healthcare workers.
‘Nobody who has booked an appointment and is eligible for a booster should be turned away, and people aged 40 and over who are three months on from their second dose can now get their booster at walk-in centres too.’
The majority of over 40s in got their second Covid vaccine by early July with most people aged 30-to-39 getting their second jab by the end of August. This means there are millions of people who are now eligible for a booster
The vast majority of adults and people over 16-years-old have now received their first Covid jab, and the proportion of children aged between 12-to-15 who have got their first vaccine is approaching 50 per cent
The latest blow to the beleaguered booster drive came after experts demanded Boris Johnson throw the ‘kitchen sink’ at the rollout.
A MailOnline analysis suggests 8million under 40s who got their second jab over three months ago could be boosted right now.
Why has the booster campaign been so slow?
Since launching in September the Covid booster campaign has failed to take off at the same speed as the initial vaccine rollout.
This is partly due to the number of staff and facilities being involved in the booster campaign being dramatically less than the resources committed to vaccine efforts earlier in the year.
Mass vaccination centres have been replaced by smaller teams in GP surgeries and pharmacies.
And despite minister urging people to come forward when they were eligible people seeking boosters have reported struggling to book jabs or being given appointment slots at inconvenient times or distant locations.
And people have also reported being turned away from their booster appointments due to conflicting guidance with staff at some vaccine centres still citing old guidelines that stated people need to wait six months between doses. The current guidance states the wait is now three months.
Vaccine supply is not considered to be an issue in the rollout.
The UK has pinned its hopes on avoiding a catastrophic Omicron wave of cases on the booster programme, with the controversial ‘Plan B’ restrictions introduced by the Prime Minister earlier this week meant to buy time for as many people to get an extra jab as possible.
The announcement of new restrictions, such as working from home guidance, compulsory mask orders, came as studies suggested a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine — which Britain’s roll-out is reliant on — was able to offer people people substantial protection from Omicron.
Britain’s booster drive kicked off in September with the older groups, following the discovery that protection offered by vaccines began to wane six months after the second dose of the jab was given.
The aim was to offer people additional protection ahead of what was predicted to be a difficult winter for the NHS.
In the face of Omicron, No10 has pledged to offer a booster to all 53million adults in the UK by the end of January, and promised to increase the number of jabs being given to 500,000-a-day.
Despite the ramp-up being launched with much aplomb, the booster campaign has so failed to speed up.
In fact, figures show it has performed worse on some days than prior to ministers’ promises to put it on ‘steroids’, languishing at about 386,000-a-day.
Critics say opening up the online booking portal to under-40s would help speed up the drive.
The above map shows the ten areas that have the most confirmed Omicron cases in England, according to the UK Health Security Agency. West Northamptonshire is the country’s hotspot for the mutant strain, although eight in ten areas on the list are in London
Other experts however urged caution in such a move, stating that while the booster campaign definitely needed to be expanded, opening up the system to all age groups would create chaos, and that the country needed to prioritise those who’s immunity was waning the most.
Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist from the University of Reading, said: ‘If the government just threw open the doors to the booster programme for all adults that could create chaos where people who have only recently been vaccinated take the places of people whose immunity is likely to have dropped much more.
‘It’s far better, I think, to copy the gradual release of boosters, but to work through the age groups as quickly as possible.’
What are the new Covid rules in England?
The return of work from home guidance. People will be told to work from home in England from Monday if they are able to.
Face masks will be made compulsory in most public indoor venues including in cinemas and theatres from this Friday. They will not be required in pubs, restaurants and gyms.
The NHS Covid pass will be compulsory to gain access to nightclubs and other large venues where large crowds gather.
This will apply to all unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme.
A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient.
This requirement will be rolled out in one week’s time to give businesses time to prepare.
Contacts of Omicron cases will be told to take daily coronavirus tests instead of having to self-isolate. They will have to quarantine if they test positive.