Covid: Slow start to London booster jab campaign

·3-min read

The booster campaign has got off to a slow start in London despite a Government pledge to go “further and faster” with the vaccine roll-out to halt spread of the Omicron variant.

There has been a 15 per cent increase in boosters given in the capital since the first UK case of the Omicron variant was announced on Saturday.

But many Londoners are being turned away from vaccination centres - which have yet to expand their opening hours – unless they have booked an appointment and waited six months since their second jab.

Nor was there any sign of new clinics which Boris Johnson promised would be “popping up like Christmas trees” or details of the 16 additional hospital hubs promised across England by Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

One doctor told the Standard that under 40s were unlikely to be offered a booster until mid-December at the earliest – and warned that it was as important to maintain efforts to provide a first jab to the estimated 2.5m unvaccinated Londoners.

At six vaccination clinics in east London visited by the Standard on Wednesday afternoon, only one – at Westfield Stratford – was offering walk-in jabs. Others were only offering jabs on one more days a week or on restricted hours.

Many people seeking jabs, in the light of the Prime Minister’s offer on Tuesday of a booster to all adults by the end of January, were being turned away.

The Standard was told that securing vaccinators was likely to be the biggest challenge. Councils said they were awaiting instructions from the NHS on when to increase capacity.

There was also a delay in clanging the vaccination regulations to allow boosters to be given after three months rather than six.

NHS figures show that 139,538 boosters were given in London between Saturday and Tuesday, 15.4 per cent or 18,622 more than the same period a week earlier.

Dr Tehseen Khan, a GP at Spring Hill practice in Stamford Hill, said hundreds of first jabs were being offered to residents at Sunday pop-up clinics as part of a “hyper local” approach to tackling “hard to reach” areas.

Dr Khan, a senior clinical advisor to NHS London, who was speaking in a personal capacity, said: “The booster offer for those under the age of 40 hasn’t opened yet. We need to make sure that those people at the highest risk come forward and get their booster before opening to the 35-40 age cohort. That is important so we don’t inadvertently increase health inequalities.

“Unfortunately because of the [political] messaging, a lot of people are walking in to the vaccine centre. The message from the NHS is clear: not to walk in if you are under the age of 40. Wait until you are called, texted or emailed by the NHS.

“We have still a huge challenge across London with people who have not even come forward for their first vaccine. These people I’m most worried about. They’re vulnerable to both the Delta and the Omicron variants.”

Dr Khan said he hoped the lessons learned from the “hyper local” approach used to encourage people to come forward for their jabs could be adapted to improve screening for cancer and for childhood immunisation programmes.

“We have been thrilled by what we have been seeing,” he said. “We know we have a challenge, with our uptake one of the lowest in the whole of London. We have all united with one goal, which is improving vaccine uptake.”

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, who helped attract people to the Sunday clinics, said: “People generally, when one explains to them the importance [of vaccinations] and how well it’s going, are very, very happy to be vaccinated.

“As shomrim, which means guardians or custodians of the community, we feel a deep responsibility to provide protection to people. That is our raison d’etre.”

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