The Covid vaccine booster campaign got under way today in an effort to bolster defences before an expected winter surge.
The NHS began jabbing people who have already had two injections after being given the green light from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Millions of people, including health and care workers, the clinically vulnerable and over-50s, are eligible for the injections.
Scientists are now looking at whether children need a second dose of vaccine and, if so, which type. Health leaders approved first doses of the Pfizer vaccine for over-12s earlier this week.
Figures last night showed 89.2% of the population aged over 16 has had one dose and 81.4% is double jabbed.
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Announcing the start of the adult booster jab campaign, NHS England’s Dr Nikki Kanani said: “Now the decision has been taken by the JCVI and once the relevant checks are in place, the NHS will invite you for your booster.
“There is no need to contact the NHS – we will be in touch with you when it is your turn to get your booster vaccine – at least six months on since your last dose.”
Catherine Cargill, a maternity support worker at Croydon University Hospital in South London, was one of the first people to be given the Pfizer booster vaccine today.
She said: “I have had it ahead of the winter season to make sure I am protected, to make sure I can carry on working, I can carry on spending time with my family, and so I can carry on with my studies.”
GPs have been told they can give the winter flu jab at the same time if stocks allow, but they should not delay either vaccination.
Further jab centres and community pharmacy-led sites will join the campaign next week.
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The Pfizer jab can be given as a third dose even if people originally received two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “It is brilliant to see that the first booster jabs are being rolled out today – thanks to the phenomenal efforts of the NHS who continue to work tirelessly to help us fight Covid-19 and protect the most vulnerable.
“We know vaccines save lives and, with every jab, our wall of defence gets higher.”
Public Health England officials said vaccines have prevented 230,000 hospital admissions.
Another 26,911 Covid-19 infections and 158 more deaths were recorded yesterday. Office for National Statistics figures show there have been 159,000 deaths registered in the UK where coronavirus was on the death certificate.
Health chiefs hope that jabbing over-12s will prevent more cases and stop more disruption to schooling. Researchers yesterday announced a study of vaccination schedules in 12 to 16-year-olds.
The Com-Cov 3 trial will seek to recruit 360 volunteers who will be enrolled in one of four parts of the study.
Chief investigator Prof Matthew Snape, associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at Oxford University said: “This study will provide vital information on the range of options for immunising teenagers.
“As well as looking at the standard two full doses of the Pfizer vaccine, we will look at how well volunteers respond when their second dose of Pfizer is half that of the first dose, or if different vaccines are used altogether, such as the vaccines by Moderna or Novavax.
“This will provide the JCVI with information crucial to informing their advice about immunising teenagers in the UK.”
Researchers hope to report initial results by December.
Hospitality bosses blasted the possibility that vaccine passports may still be required for pubs.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid this week left the door open to requiring punters to show proof of coronavirus vaccination or a negative test before they can be served a pint.
Campaign for Pubs director Greg Mulholland said: “It would be a huge burden on publicans and pub staff and put off many customers, as well as being ethically questionable.
“The Government should instead stick to Plan A and encourage as many people to get vaccinated as possible.”