The NHS is to hire an extra 52,000 vaccinators and volunteers to “ramp up” its booster drive one year after the national vaccination programme became the first in the world to administer a Covid-19 jab.
The huge recruitment push comes as millions more people can book their Covid booster vaccine on Wednesday as the NHS cuts the qualifying time from six months after a second dose to three.
Boris Johnson announced eight days ago that every eligible adult in the UK should be offered a Covid booster by the end of January under plans to boost protection against the Omicron variant. “We’re going to be throwing everything at it, to ensure everyone eligible is offered a booster in just over two months,” the prime minister said.
More than a week after that announcement, the NHS is today updating its online booking system to enable every adult aged 40 and over and all those in high-risk groups to arrange their Covid booster jab to take place three months after their second dose. A row over red tape that has hampered the programme opening up more widely has also erupted between senior national staff at NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency.
Officials at both agencies rubbished claims the booster rollout is stalling. They pointed to global data that shows the UK has administered more booster shots than any other country outside the US and China, and domestic figures that reveal the seven-day average for boosters or third doses – 383,000 – has hit a record high.
However, that number still falls some way short of government targets to vaccinate 500,000 a day. Tens of thousands of vaccination workers and volunteers will be urged to sign up and help the national Covid-19 vaccination programme, although it is unclear how long it will be before they are trained and ready to serve on the frontline.
The recruitment push comes exactly a year after Margaret Keenan received the Pfizer jab in Coventry, launching the biggest NHS vaccination drive in history. Since then, more than 51m first doses have been given in the UK, along with 46m second doses and 20m extra doses.
About 3,000 vaccine sites have been established across the country, staffed by 92,000 NHS staff and 118,000 volunteers who have given 1.9m hours to help protect millions of Britons.
Now the NHS is hiring more paid staff and volunteers for the programme as it reaches its “most complex stage”. 10,000 new roles are being advertised include vaccinators, admin staff and healthcare support workers. The NHS is also working with the Royal Voluntary Service and St John Ambulance to drum up the support of more than 42,000 volunteers.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said the rollout would not have been as successful as it had been “without the help of thousands of volunteers”. She said the NHS was now “ramping up its vaccine drive once again as millions more become eligible for their booster, sooner, following updated JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] guidance”.
The fresh recruitment drive comes as the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall warned of the deadly dangers of being unvaccinated, urging those who are still hesitant to get their jabs and boosters.
They stressed that people who were unvaccinated were much more likely to end up in hospital or die than those who have had two vaccine doses and a booster.
“People who are unvaccinated are at least 10 times more likely to be hospitalised or die than those who have had two vaccine doses,” they said. “That is why we urge everyone to get vaccinated and to take up the booster, as we have done ourselves.”