What booster target has the government announced to tackle the Omicron variant?

14 December 2021

Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.

On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister set a target to give booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to every eligible adult in England by the end of December.

Confusingly, NHS England has said it’s actually working to a slightly different target. In a statement published on 12 December, it said that it will “offer every adult the chance to book a COVID-19 booster vaccine by the end of the year”.

NHS England told Full Fact that its target does not necessarily mean that every eligible adult will actually be able to receive a booster dose before the end of December—although it expects that most will.

We asked the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Number 10 for clarity on the government’s own target. The DHSC repeated the Prime Minister’s words and confirmed that it does intend to give all eligible people the chance to actually get their booster before the deadline.

It explained that people can use walk-in vaccination centres even if they are not able to book an appointment before the end of the year.

Obviously someone’s real ability to receive a booster dose at a walk-in centre will depend on whether there is a centre nearby and whether it has enough capacity.

Who is eligible?

As announced by the Prime Minister, every adult over 18 has been eligible to receive a booster dose at a participating walk-in vaccination centre since 13 December (if at least three months have passed since their second dose). They will also be able to book an appointment from 15 December onwards.

Some people over 16 also qualify for medical reasons. Anyone who tests positive for Covid must wait 28 days after the test, or after their symptoms first began, before receiving their booster.

In practice, these rules alone may make it difficult to give every eligible person a booster before the deadline, because some, for example, may only become eligible on 31 December itself, limiting the time they had available to book an appointment or find a walk-in centre.

It might never be clear whether the target has been met, because it may be difficult to know whether someone eligible for the booster “could” have visited a walk-in centre, even if they were unable to book an appointment before the deadline.  

We’ve written before about how the government has set itself unclear targets earlier in the pandemic.

The Minister of Health for Northern Ireland has said it will attempt to match England’s booster target, as announced by Mr Johnson.

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have said that their nations will attempt to offer appointments to all eligible adults by the end of the year.

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