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Covid-19 booster vaccinations stepped up by 60% in days in Cambridgeshire - but huge challenge ahead

Health authorities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have ramped up the number of Covid-19 booster vaccinations administered by 60 per cent compared to the previous week.

It comes after the government announced a new deadline of the end of December to offer everyone aged 18 and over a booster jab to help stave off the threat posed by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Outbreaks of the highly mutated variant have been confirmed in several settings in Cambridgeshire, where more than 4,000 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in a week for the first time since the pandemic began.

An army of vaccinators and volunteers is being assembled to help health authorities more than treble the number of boosters being administered.

Some 6,000 extra appointments were swiftly opened up on Monday. Existing vaccination centres are due to announce longer opening hours and more GP surgeries, pharmacies and community sites are expected to join the effort to help get boosters in arms by the end of the year.

Gary Howsam, chair of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), told the Cambridge Independent: “We don’t shy away from the fact that it’s an absolutely mammoth task but it’s incredibly important that we get the boosters offered and into as many people as we can in the timeline that we’ve been given, just purely because of the very rapid spread and doubling time of the virus.”

For now, boosters are only available in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough by booking in advance and not by using walk-in services, which are concentrating on offering first, second and third primary doses.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recorded an address to the nation at Downing Street. Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson recorded an address to the nation at Downing Street. Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

That has caused confusion among some. The decision to end walk-in booster vaccinations in the county came into effect on Saturday (December 11), the day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he was bringing forward the deadline to offer every adult a booster jab by a month.

Explaining the move, Dr Howsam said: “It allowed us to open up more capacity but to do it in a managed way, so that people would know if they booked an appointment they would get it and what time, rather than standing in these massive queues at centres where the walk-ins were offered.

“Going forward, I’m not going to rule anything out in terms of how we deliver the programme. As we understand the needs of the population, then we will be looking at all options to make sure that people can get the jabs when they’re eligible and when they want it, which is going to be a moveable feast as capacity increases.”

The scale of the challenge is enormous.

By the end of Wednesday (December 15), 261,873 booster jabs had been administered in Cambridgeshire - including 18,128 in the first three days of this week alone.

A further 61,760 boosters have been administered in Peterborough, including 3,441 this week.

A Covid-19 jab is prepared. Picture: PA
A Covid-19 jab is prepared. Picture: PA

More than 90 per cent of people aged 70 and over who are eligible have had their booster, which can only be administered from three months after a second dose of a Covid-19 vaccination.

But to meet the target, health authorities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough could have to deliver as many as 20,000 boosters a day between now and December 31, excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day, when vaccination centres are due to be closed.

Dr Howsam said: “We’re refocusing our priorities away from business as usual and towards the vaccination programme - and that’s how we’ll increase capacity.

“We’ll be looking at having more people at each of the vaccination sites and longer operating hours, but that will obviously put increased pressure on people who have already been working incredibly hard for the last 12 months to deliver the programme.

“As we saw at the peak of the initial vaccination campaign, a lot more GPs and their teams will be involved in the vaccinations again.

“We gave about 65-75 per cent of the initial vaccines, really tapping into the expertise of general practice for mass vaccination campaigns on the basis of the fact that we do the flu campaign every year.”

And he added: “Being able to increase the number of vaccines delivered by 60 per cent in the first three days after the Prime Minister’s announcement is a phenomenal effort from everyone working on the programme. Even better news is that our local people are booking these slots to get boosted.

“I want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone involved – our GPs, pharmacists, hospital hubs, large scale vaccination centres, teams vaccinating our housebound patients, volunteers, local authorities and our CCG for pulling together to rapidly accelerate our booster programme.

“We will be ramping up even further over the coming days, so I would encourage people who haven’t yet got an appointment booked to look on the National Booking Service to secure their slot.”

Dr Gary Howsam
Dr Gary Howsam

He warned that focusing so much energy on the booster programme would mean it is harder to get a GP appointment in the coming weeks, and routine appointments across the NHS may be impacted.

“There is no slack in the system. GPs and their teams have been working incredibly hard. Across England we delivered something like 34 million appointments in October which is a couple of a million more than September and seven million more than August,” he said.

“There are lots of people out there who will be working days off and weekends right through the festive period now to make sure we get this offer out to our populations.”

Despite the challenge, he was optimistic that the target could bemet.

“I think it is very ambitious, but I am confident that everyone who is currently eligible and wants to have a booster will have the opportunity to book somewhere before the end of December,” he said.

But volunteers and paid staff are needed to help.

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG said: “For those wanting to undertake roles such as stewards at our vaccination sites we are asking they register via the Royal Volunteer Service: https://www.goodsamapp.org/NHSvolunteerresponders.

“Further information on paid roles, which we would also welcome more people to apply for, can be found here: https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/join-the-nhs-covid-19-vaccine-team/.”

And while getting a booster is vital, so are following the well-known measures of wearing a mask, stay socially distant, washing hands and ventilating rooms.

“That helps us prevent the spread of other respiratory illnesses and not just Covid,” added Dr Howsam. “We need to do everything we can to reduce the burden on the NHS going forward.”

For up to date details of vaccination sites and their opening times, visit thevaccinators.co.uk. To book your booster, visit nhs.uk/covidvaccine or call 119.

Find out more about vaccination centres here.

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