Volunteers are being urged to help the “vital national effort” of expanding the coronavirus vaccination programme as the head of NHS England warned that the service “will not be able to do it alone”.
Chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the Omicron variant arriving on UK shores serves as a “wake-up call”.
Many people donated their time when the vaccination programme first began as the nation was facing lockdown and the emergence of the Alpha variant of Covid-19.
Now volunteers are being urged to come forward again as the NHS prepares for an expansion of the programme.
Ms Pritchard also said that NHS staff will “move heaven and earth to vaccinate as many people as possible” to ensure that people can enjoy Christmas with their loved ones.
In a speech to the King’s Fund’s annual conference, she said: “I thought it probably would be worth saying a few words about the Omicron variant and partly because I know people will be concerned – not least NHS staff who have worked so hard to care for now more than half a million Covid patients in hospital as well as many more in the community, and they’ve done such a fantastic job rolling out the Covid vaccination programme.
“We do know that vaccines have been highly effective against previous Covid strains.
“And even if they are less effective – and we don’t know that yet – against Omicron, we do know that they are still likely to get some protection.
“So I think the key message is still, if anybody who has not yet done so, it is never too late to come forward for a first or second dose.
“And, of course, when people become eligible for their boosters, we would just say please do take up that offer.
“For many, watching the news that the Omicron variant has reached this country will be something of a wake-up call.
“And it will be a wake-up call for anybody who was hoping that we would be through this; Covid is still very much with us.”
She added that the vaccination programme is now “significantly more complex” than it was at the start.
“Now, of course, we’re delivering primary, secondary, third and booster vaccinations along with a schools programme as well,” she said.
“And that is now being done alongside all the many other demands on the NHS.
“As we look to expand the NHS vaccination programme, which is an absolute priority for the next few days and weeks, we do know we will not be able to do it alone. So I really hope that, once again, we will see volunteers coming forward to help what is still a vital national effort.
“The weeks and months ahead are going to be difficult for NHS staff and potentially for the whole country.
“But I know that NHS staff will again move heaven and earth to vaccinate as many people as possible, giving us all the best chance to enjoy Christmas with family and with friends.”
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