The public call for all unvaccinated over-70s to come forward marks a shift away from the previous NHS policy of asking patients to wait to be invited for a COVID-19 jab.
The change in approach comes as NHS figures revealed that by the end of 6 February more than 12m people UK-wide had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said ‘around nine in 10 patients’ aged over 70 have now received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine – suggesting around 6.8m out of a total of nearly 7.6m patients in this age group have been covered.
The health and social care secretary told a Downing Street briefing on 8 February that vaccine take-up had been ‘significantly better’ than the government had hoped for. He said the government had expected take-up of around 75% – but that to date 91% of over 80s, 95% of people aged 75-79, 75% of those aged 70-74 and 93% of care home residents had received a first dose.
NHS officials have asked primary care networks (PCNs) in England to confirm by the end of Monday 8 February that they have offered a first dose of vaccine to all patients in the first four priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – covering residents and staff in care homes for older people, health and care workers, all over-70s and patients who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Patients over 70 who have yet to receive a first dose have been urged to contact the NHS national booking service at www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or to call 119 between 7am and 11pm any day of the week.
GP practices have also been asked to call or send follow up letters to patients including those on shielding lists who have yet to take up an offer of vaccination.
Vaccine priority groups
NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘The NHS vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history, is off to a strong start with every eligible care home receiving a visit and millions more people being vaccinated at one of over 1,500 centres across the country thanks to the tireless efforts of my colleagues.
‘But if you are aged 70 and over, and haven’t yet received your vaccine, please come forward and make an appointment as soon as you can.
‘The vaccine is safe, simple, and will offer you and those around you crucial protection against this virus.’
Mr Hancock said: ‘Thanks to the huge efforts of the NHS, volunteers and local authorities we have vaccinated an incredible 12m vulnerable people so far – including around nine in 10 of all over-70s.
‘We are on track to meet our goal of offering everyone in the top four priority groups a jab. So far we have said please wait until the NHS contacts you. I now urge everyone aged 70 and over who hasn’t yet had a vaccination to come forward and contact the NHS to book in their jab.
‘Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic and, by ensuring you and your loved ones get booked in for a jab, the NHS can give those most at-risk the protection they need.’