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NHS asks for army to help with Covid booster vaccine drive

NHS asks for army to help with Covid booster vaccine drive
Exclusive: GPs to be offered increased funding for vaccinations as part of drive to expand national Covid-19 booster jab scheme

The NHS is seeking military aid to support the drive to more than double its Covid-19 vaccination booster rates, The Independent has learned.

NHS leaders on Monday evening told staff they have contacted the Ministry of Defense as part of measures to expand capacity after the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) ruled the Covid-19 booster jab programme should be extended to 18 to 39-year-olds.

The JCVI’s advice was in response to growing concerns over new omicron Covid-19 variant, which has been identified in at least 14 people in the UK so far.

The expansion of the vaccination programme, which will also see the time between second jabs and boosters cut from six to three months, means the NHS will have to vaccinate 13 million people in addition to the 6 million already promised during the winter.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be announcing further details on the vaccination programme at 4pm during a Downing Street press conference.

Sources attending an NHS webinar on Monday evening were told the Ministry of Defence has been contacted by the NHS to provide staffing support. The move was mentioned as part of wider measures, which include expanding volunteer numbers by tens of thousands, to staff the national vaccination rollout.

The military was previously brought to assist the initial vaccination programme earlier this year, and in June 144 army medics were drafted in to support vaccine drives in the northwest, which at the time had areas of lower uptake.

It is not clear how exactly many more staff will be needed to accommodate the acceleration of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. However, several vaccination centre leads have raised concerns to The Independent over whether they will be able to expand staff numbers enough to meet the government’s requirements.

On Monday several NHS leaders warned that expanding the vaccination programme to the rate required would be a “huge” challenge and required support from the government, amid already difficult pressures to staff healthcare services over winter.

And NHS chief Amanda Pritchard warned that: “The weeks and months ahead are going to be difficult for NHS staff and potentially for the whole country.”

NHS hospitals are also expected to ensure all of their staff are fully vaccinated by April this year, following changes in legislation by the government earlier this month.

Sources, speaking with The Independent, said the government’s vaccinations chief Emily Lawson also revealed the national system to book booster jabs was not yet able to accommodate bookings for 18- to 39-year-olds.

On Monday the JCVI also said 12 to 15-year-olds should be eligible to have their second doses, after three months had passed. The Independent understands the NHS is planning to start these vaccinations in January.

Payment to GPs and pharmacies carrying out vaccines is also expected to increase, from £12.58 per dose to £15 a dose, while rates for Sundays and bank holidays will increase to £20.

An NHS spokesperson said: “All plans for the next phase of the NHS’s life-saving vaccination programme are currently under review and comments made in this webinar were made before any logistics or operational details had been finalised.”