COVID-19: People urged to book booster appointments before vaccine programme scaled down
People are being urged to book one of the hundreds of thousands of COVID booster appointments still available before the NHS scales down its vaccination programme and focuses on at-risk patients.
More than 400,000 appointments are on offer at 2,800 sites across England until Sunday 12 February, the last of the autumn booster campaign.
The date is also the final opportunity for 16 to 49-year-olds, who are not considered at-risk and have not yet had a booster, to get the jab - in line with updated guidance from government advisory group the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The body of scientific experts has recommended adopting a more targeted approach to those at risk of serious illness, ahead of a potential spring booster campaign for the most vulnerable and another autumn programme.
So far more than 17.3 million people have come forward for a booster shot this winter, according to NHS England.
More than 144 million doses of the vaccine have now been delivered since grandmother Maggie Keenan made history as the first person in the world to receive the vaccine outside of a trial.
A smaller programme allowing severely immunosuppressed people to book for first, second and third doses will continue after 12 February.
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The JCVI has advised that the primary COVID vaccine course should be withdrawn this year for healthy people aged five to 49.
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty stressed the importance of being protected against COVID.
He told Sky News: "We know that having the third vaccination, a booster, is a very important part of immunity to COVID and it provides additional protection, even if people have had COVID or had their first vaccination.
"So the autumn programme which includes the ability for everyone to come forward, is coming to an end on 12 February and I'd encourage anybody who's not taken up the offer to do so before then."
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NHS director of vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said: "Whether you have had previous doses or a bout of COVID, we know that a booster is the best way to maintain protection against serious illness from COVID for yourself and your loved ones."
Mr Russell also hailed NHS staff for working really hard to deliver a combined 38 million flu and COVID doses this winter "amid record pressures on emergency services, providing crucial protection and keeping thousands out of hospital."
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Health Secretary Steve Barclay also urged anyone who hasn't had their first booster, or is eligible for an autumn booster, to come forward.
"Our hardworking NHS staff and volunteers have done an incredible job getting jabs into arms and they're on hand to top up your immunity and keep you and your loved ones protected," he said.