The under-30s are driving a surge in people getting their first jab of the Covid-19 vaccine, with the overall number of people rising by almost half in the week up to 21 December, figures show.
The sudden uptick is fuelled by fears of the Omicron variant, as well as the government’s “Get boosted now” publicity drive, which has seen millions of people come forward for their third Covid shot in the past fortnight.
A total of 221,564 first doses were administered in England in the week of 15-21 December, a 46% increase from the previous week, and 279,112 second doses were administered, a 39% jump, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
The largest increase was seen among young people, with an 85% increase in first doses for those aged 18 to 24 and a 71% increase in first doses for those aged 25 to 30.
More than seven in 10 people aged 18 and over have now received their booster, with 27,127,951 people who are three months on from their second dose already boosted in England, as of 24 December.
The effect is also being seen in older age groups. In the week up to 21 December, more over-60s had had a first dose than during any seven-day period since early June.
Data from the UK Health Security Agency has revealed that two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, while providing strong protecting from the Delta variant, show substantially reduced effectiveness against symptomatic infection from the Omicron variant over time.
But a third dose provides between 60% and 70% protection against symptomatic infection from Omicron two to four weeks after the booster dose.
The government and NHS England have expanded the booster programme and launched an advertising campaign urging the public to “Get boosted now”.
More than 30 million people have had their third dose and all of those eligible will be offered a booster by the end of the year.
The health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, said that it had “never been more vital to get your jabs” and described the recent surge in first and second doses as “excellent”.
“Those initial jabs lay the foundation for the booster jab to protect against Omicron, two doses is not enough and you need to build protection jab by jab and once eligible get boosted now,” he said.
The news comes as a senior NHS doctor warned “stragglers” who were eligible for a booster but had yet not had one that there was “no time to lose”.
“The evidence is clear.
One or two jabs can help but they do not provide the protection we all need against Omicron,” said the NHS national medical director, Prof Stephen Powis.
He said that staff and volunteers on the NHS Covid vaccination programme would be working throughout the festive period to “make sure people can get the protection they need as conveniently as possible” and that people could go online to choose from thousands of vaccination sites to book an appointment, “with no need for long queues”.
Over the festive period, 750 armed forces personnel have been drafted in to support the rollout of the booster programme, while extra vaccine centres and pop-up sites have opened to make it as easy as possible for people to be vaccinated.
More than a million slots for vaccinations are still available in the run-up to the New Year.
Although millions of people have received a booster dose in the last few weeks, about 10% of appointments have been missed nationwide while hundreds of thousands of appointments remain unfilled since the prime minister, Boris Johnson, urged those eligible to book a third jab.