The speeding up of COVID booster jabs in England will happen no later than 13 December, NHS bosses have said.
From that date, or earlier, the online booking system for coronavirus vaccines will be updated in order to allow people to book their booster jab three months after their second dose.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson accepted experts’ advice to slash the waiting time for a booster dose from six months to three months, following the discovery of the Omicron variant.
The government has since set a target of offering a COVID booster jab to all adults in England by the end of January.
In a letter to local health leaders, the chiefs of NHS England set out plans for the ramping up of the booster programme in the coming weeks.
They said that, in line with advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that “the NHS will offer vaccination in descending age groups, with priority given to the vaccination of older adults and those in a COVID-19 at-risk group first”.
Currently, all those over 40 and the most vulnerable groups are eligible for a booster.
The letter added that “the National Booking Service (NBS) is now being updated to reflect the three-month (91 days) interval from second dose to booster”.
“Our intention is to go live as soon as possible and no later than 13 December,” it continued.
NHS bosses also confirmed that GP surgeries will be able to postpone some routine health checks in order to focus on delivering booster jabs.
“From 1 December 2021 to 31 March 2022, where contractors consider it clinically appropriate, routine health checks for those over 75 and for new patients may be deferred,” the letter said.
It was also confirmed that military personnel and St John Ambulance volunteers will be used to help deliver the booster programme, medical students will be invited to do vaccine shifts, and a new campaign has been launched for extra stewards and volunteers at vaccination centres.
The letter added that there are “no supply challenges with either the Moderna or Pfizer booster stocks” and so all vaccination sites have been asked to load their calendars to the end of January, where possible.
More than 19 million booster or other third doses (given to those with severely weakened immune systems) have so far been given in the UK, which is 33.8% of the total population aged 12 and over.
The Royal College of GPs said: “These are sensible, temporary measures that will address some of the bureaucratic demands on practices and have minimal impact on the care patients receive in general practice, allowing GPs and our teams to focus their efforts where currently most clinically necessary.
“We hope these measures will support Primary Care Networks to get involved in delivering the expanded booster campaign, if they are not already and feel it is safe to do so.”