Two thirds of care home residents are still waiting for a booster jab, figures show, as it emerged that some GPs have stopped vaccinations to prioritise clearing treatment backlogs.
Data seen by The Telegraph show that 27.8 per cent of care home residents and just 14.1 per cent of staff have had their third jab. The Government has set a deadline of Nov 1 for all care home residents and staff to have had the offer of a booster.
Concern is growing that waning immunity among the most vulnerable is already leading to a rise in deaths, with 223 reported on Tuesday – the highest since early March.
On Tuesday, Boris Johnson told the Cabinet that current measures were keeping the virus under control, but that “we must put all our energies into our vaccination programmes”. The Prime Minister’s spokesman added: “We’re keeping a very close eye on rising case rates.”
However, Prof Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, warned that infections were high and extra measures may soon be needed. He said: “Nobody likes having their freedoms curtailed by measures, but it’s prudent to be cautious in everyday interactions – certainly wearing masks helps that, it reminds people that we’re not completely out of the woods yet.”
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare trusts, last night urged ministers to implement their winter “Plan B”, which would see a return to mandatory mask-wearing, working from home and the rollout of vaccine passports.
On Tuesday night, an extension to the Coronavirus Act – allowing for extra measures to keep Covid under control for another six months until March – passed unopposed.
Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, called for pop-up vaccination centres to “get going with these booster jabs” – a plea echoed by Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary. It came as it was reported that some vaccination centres were offering walk-in boosters for eligible groups rather than requiring people to have been invited.
According to the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, which is monitoring vaccine uptake, there are currently 8.7 million people eligible for a booster, but just 3.8 million have had the jab so far.
NHS England said 5.5 million invitations had been sent out, with a further 1.9 million people to be contacted this week, but claimed people were not coming forward for third jabs.
However, GPs’ groups said many surgeries had pulled out of the programme amid a growing treatment backlog, leaving people struggling to find a local vaccination centre.
Prof Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said “quite a few GP vaccination centres have shut to allow us to get on with our other work”, adding: “I suspect the slow booster and child [vaccine] uptake is a consequence of several factors, of which ease of access is one.”
The BMA also warned that changes to the GPs vaccination contract – which told practices they must continue with all usual work as well as vaccines – had led to many opting out of the scheme.
One NHS practice manager told The Telegraph that 40 per cent of GPs in his area had abandoned vaccinations because they could not cope with the extra workload, and NHS England had stopped his practice from only doing the top three priority groups, which it could have managed. “NHS England said it was all or nothing – so they got nothing,” he said.
Dr Richard Vautrey, the BMA GP committee chairman, added: “To sign up for the booster programme, practices had to commit to continuing all routine care, which was not the case during the first phase of vaccinations when they were able to reprioritise their work and reduce less important and unnecessary activities.
“Given the intense workload pressures facing practices – and the misguided insistence from the Government and NHS England that practices return to pre-pandemic ways of working – it’s no surprise that many practices did not feel able to commit to the booster programme.”
The NHS said there were now an extra 500 vaccination sites compared to April. “There is plenty of capacity,” a spokesman said. “Almost four million people have already received their booster in just four weeks since the rollout began – more than double the rate of the initial rollout in December.”
Amanda Pritchard, the NHS chief executive, told MPs on Tuesday that vaccine uptake was the problem.
“What we are seeing, and this is absolutely the crux, is that whilst it’s great that people are coming forward for their boosters, they are not coming forward as quickly when they receive their invitation as we certainly saw for the first jabs,” she said.
But Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary, warned that more needed to be done to reach people before the vaccination backlog “creates a real crisis”.
The Government has also been criticised for failing to speed up the vaccination of children. So far, just 15.9 per cent have had their first jab, compared to 47.4 per cent in Scotland.
On Tuesday, the Department for Education estimated that 2.6 per cent of all pupils – around 209,000 children – did not attend class for Covid-related reasons on Thursday last week, up from 2.5 per cent on Sep 30.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, announced on Tuesday that children would now be able to book a jab at a vaccination centre rather than having it through school.