The Covid booster jabs programme in England is being undermined by the public’s complacency about the threat posed by the virus, a senior NHS leader involved in the rollout has said.
The number of people getting their top-up shot is too low because the lifting of lockdown restrictions means many people do not see the point, said Ruth Rankine, the director of primary care at the NHS Confederation.
This week the head of the NHS in England was urged to “turbocharge” the booster programme. NHS England has denied the programme is significantly behind schedule and said more than 4m top-up shots had been delivered in the last month alone.
But on Tuesday Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who now chairs the Commons health select committee, told the NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, that just 200,000 doses a day were being provided, half the 400,000 a day seen in the spring.
Pritchard said: “While it is great that people are coming forward for their boosters, they are not coming forward as quickly when they receive their invitation as seen for first jabs.”
Rankine said: “The issue with the boosters is that the uptake is not where they [ministers and NHS leaders] want it to be. Our members in primary care – GP federations and primary care networks – are telling us that people are a bit more laissez-faire about it [vaccination] now. When we had first and second doses, a lot of it was still in lockdown and people saw it as a way out, a way to freedom and [fewer] restrictions.
“Now there are very few restrictions, so it’s like: ‘why do I need to be vaccinated then because I’m already double vaccinated?’ or ‘I’ve already had Covid so what difference is this going to make?’ We haven’t got those same restrictions we had previously. Mask wearing is voluntary. There’s no restrictions on going to events. There’s no restrictions on going on holiday. So I think people are a lot more complacent than they were before.”
She added: “Whilst people may feel that things are back to normal, you just have to look at the [Covid] numbers to know that we are still in the height of Covid. My concern is that a lot of the public don’t seem to realise that.”
Rankine said there was less motivation to be triple vaccinated than double vaccinated. “When we were getting first and second doses people thought: OK, well if I want to go on holiday I need to be double vaccinated. We haven’t got that now. Countries aren’t saying that you have to have had your booster to get in. The requirement is still to be double vaccinated.”
The Royal College of GPs said fewer practices were taking part in the booster shots programme and many were instead concentrating on administering flu jabs and the huge demand for care they are facing.
“GPs are already facing intense workload and workforce pressures as we approach what will be an incredibly challenging winter, so it’s understandable that some practices have had to prioritise other essential care and services for their patients,” said Prof Martin Marshall, the college’s chair.