People will still be able to go for a Covid-19 booster vaccine on Christmas Day, the NHS has announced amid efforts to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
Boris Johnson has urged people to come forward for their third dose of the vaccine, as the latest data suggests that Omicron may be milder than others.
The booster rollout will carry on during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with around 200,000 appointments for a third dose still available across the country over the festive period.
The NHS said its “jingle jab” campaign will see NHS staff and volunteers administer doses at scores of local vaccination sites including town halls and local pharmacies.
NHS England advised booking in advance but said there will be options available for people without appointments across the country, including in Eastbourne, Hartlepool, Croydon and Dewsbury.
The Prime Minister used his Christmas message to tell people to get the “wonderful” gift of a booster jab as part of the “neighbourly” spirit of the season.
Experts have warned that while a first or second dose can help, only boosters provide the maximum level of protection against Omicron.
Dr Emily Lawson, head of the NHS Covid vaccination programme, said: “We’ve seen record after record broken in the run-up to the festive season and I want to thank every NHS staff member and volunteer whose goodwill and determination to protect their communities will keep the booster rollout going this Christmas weekend.
“This Christmas, before sitting down to your dinner with your family, I would encourage anyone not already boosted to come forward, book an appointment and get the gift of a jab.”
In his Christmas message to the nation released later today (24 December), the Prime Minister will encourage people to get a booster jab.
“Though the time for buying presents is theoretically running out, there is still a wonderful thing you can give your family and the whole country, and that is to get that jab, whether it is your first or second, or your booster,” Mr Johnson will say.
He will add: “We have been getting that vaccination that protects us and stops us infecting others.
“And I hope I can be forgiven for taking pride in the immense spirit of neighbourliness that the people of this country have shown.
“Getting jabbed not just for themselves, for ourselves, but for friends and family and everyone we meet.”
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also used her Christmas message to urge people to get vaccinated, describing the booster campaign as “a source of brightness during a really difficult month”.
“Getting vaccinated is the most important way, although certainly not the only way, in which we can all protect each other, as we get through this next phase of the pandemic,” she said.
“Vaccination is above all else a demonstration of compassion for, and solidarity with, each other.
“By continuing to show compassion and solidarity, I hope we can all enjoy the best and the safest festive period possible.”
In Northern Ireland, DUP leader and Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that Covid “should not be underestimated” as he isolates with the infection.
The booster push over the festive period comes after a record-breaking week for booster jabs. On Wednesday, 1.06 million vaccines were administered, the highest number ever – 968,665 of which were top-up doses.
However, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 1.4 million people in the UK had the virus in the week ending December 16, the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020.
The number of lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases also hit a new daily record with 119,789 as of 9am on Thursday, according to official figures.
New figures from NHS England showed one in five patients waited at least half-an-hour to be handed over from ambulance teams to A&E staff at hospitals in England last week.
Across England as a whole, 18,829 NHS staff at acute hospital trusts were absent due to reasons relating to coronavirus on December 19, up 54% from 12,240 a week earlier and up 51% from 12,508 at the start of the month.
In Wales and Scotland meanwhile, extra military personnel are being drafted in to help ambulance services struggling with a high number of staff absences due to Covid.