Covid booster jab programme ‘stalling’ and won’t be completed until March, Labour warns

‘Isn’t the truth the vaccination programme is now stalling?’ says Ashworth

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 21 October 2021 12:09 BST

Labour has warned the government’s crucial Covid booster jab programme won’t be completed until March 2022 on current trends as cases of the virus climb.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, also hit out at Sajid Javid’s “complacent attitude” after he described the pressures facing the NHS as sustainable — despite health service leaders’ concerns.

“Isn’t the truth the vaccination programme is now stalling?” Mr Ashworth said during an urgent Commons question on Thursday.

“Ministers can’t blame the public while two million people haven’t even had an invitation for a booster jab.”

“On current trends we won’t complete boosters until March 2022. Instead of doing 165,000 booster jabs a day, why not set a commitment to do 500,000 jabs a day and get this programme completed by Christmas, mobilising pop-up clinics and making better use of community pharmacies?” he added.

“With infections running so high, ministers need to, if I may, stop vacillating and get vaccinating. The wall of defence is crumbling, we know with this virus you have to get ahead of it, otherwise it gets ahead of you.”

It comes after experts suggested around five million people are at greater risk of contracting Covid as they are yet to receive their booster jabs.

Under current government guidance, those aged over 50 and vulnerable groups who were double jabbed six months ago are now eligible for a booster dose, but Labour urged ministers to speed up the programme.

The former Tory health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, also suggested the government should look at reducing the time to get a booster from six to five months after the second jab.

“As its peak in the spring we were jabbing 400,000 people a day,” the Conservative MP said. “Now it’s less than 200,000 people a day.

“If you look at the higher hospitalisations, cases and death rates, compared to countries like France and Germany, the heart of it is not actually things like mask wearing and Covid passports, it is their higher vaccine immunity.”

He added: “Does it really matter when it’s only nine weeks until the Christmas holidays if someone has their booster jab after five months? And should we not look at whether there should be flexibility in that decision so we can get more people in more quickly for their booster jabs?

The vaccines minister Maggie Throup, however, said: “It is incredible how many people have taken up the offer of not just the first jab but the second jab, and are now coming forward for their boosters.”

Ms Throup also gave advice to people who need to get both a Covid booster and a flu jab, saying: “If you get your call for your flu jab, don’t wait for your call to get your booster jab and vice versa, get whichever jab you get invited for first and that will help to protect you and your family and the people around you.”

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