Millions of people in England will be offered a Covid booster jab next week, health officials have announced, as recent estimates show infections have climbed to their highest level this year.
Care home residents will be the first to receive the spring Covid-19 booster vaccine from Monday, with millions more people invited to book an appointment from Wednesday.
About 5 million people will be eligible for a booster until the end of June, including those aged 75 and over and anyone aged five and over who is immunosuppressed. Everyone will be able to book a jab online from 5 April, with the first appointments available from 17 April.
Millions of people will be sent their initial invitations through the NHS app, where they can also book their appointment. Text messages and letters will be sent to those without the app or who are not using it regularly.
The move comes after official UK estimates of Covid-19 last week showed infections in England had climbed to their highest level so far in 2023.
The findings mark the final time regular estimates of coronavirus are being published, as the long-running survey – described by some as the “envy of the world” for its success in tracking the virus – has been halted. Any further monitoring of Covid-19 will be announced after a review to ensure it is cost effective, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
An estimated 1.5 million people in private households in England were likely to have had coronavirus in the week ending 13 March, up from 1.3 million in the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics. It was the highest total for England since the week to 3 January.
The NHS director of vaccinations and screening, Steve Russell, said: “As a society, we are learning to live with Covid but, for many, it is still a virus that can cause serious illness and hospitalisation, and so it is still really important that those at greatest risk come forward and boost their protection in the coming weeks.
“There are still about 8,000 people in hospital with Covid, according to the latest data, and the NHS has now treated more than 1 million Covid inpatients since the pandemic began.
“So if you are over 75 or you have a weakened immune system, please come forward as soon as possible to book a Covid vaccine this spring so you can enjoy summer with peace of mind.”
Sign up to First Edition
Archie Bland and Nimo Omer take you through the top stories and what they mean, free every weekday morning
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said the booster campaign can include the Pfizer, Moderna, Sanofi/GSK jabs. The Novavax vaccine will be available for use only when alternatives are not considered clinically suitable.
Children under 12 will be offered a child formulation of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.