Covid booster vaccine roll-out needs more ‘sophisticated campaign’ as number of jabs flatlines

A more sophisticated Covid-19 booster jab campaign is needed to reach members of the public who may be confused about why a third dose is needed, according to a healthcare researcher.

It comes as the number of booster vaccines being given across the UK flatlined in the week since the Government’s scientific advisers called for the rollout to be accelerated and expanded, official figures reveal.

Amid fears over the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Government is adamant that the NHS has the “capacity” to increase the speed of the programme and says vaccinators are waiting for more over-40s to come forward.

Toxicology expert Professor Winston Morgan said campaigning to encourage people to get boosters had ramped up but that little had been done to inform people about why they need a third shot.

“Some people are confused by the need for the booster, which demonstrates a failure to communicate how vaccines work – this is not unique to black communities,” said Professor Morgan, a University of East London reader in toxicology and clinical biochemistry who has researched uptake among ethnic minority communities.

“Going forward, these campaigns have to be more sophisticated. Booster campaigns to persuade those who took the first and second doses willingly or reluctantly must not be confused with campaigns to persuade those who have never taken the vaccines. The campaign for booster will only confirm the fears of many who were reluctant in the first place.”

In the past week, a total of 2.68 million booster jabs were administered, only slightly up from 2.57 million in the previous week. In the spring the original vaccines rollout peaked at more than four million a week.

The health service has named next Monday as the deadline for expanding the programme further to include all over-40s who had their second dose at least three months ago. A Whitehall source said: “It takes the NHS a bit of time to operationalise this but we are determined to boost the boosters as soon as possible.”

Boris Johnson’s spokesman denied claims that the rollout is falling behind the required rate, but said: “We want to go further and we certainly have the capacity to do higher numbers.”

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Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP working in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, said booster uptake in the area is low, which is “due to a mixture of reasons, including a general distrust of the Government who have handled the pandemic appallingly”.

“The Government has also lead people to believe that the pandemic is over, their refusal to wear masks in the House of Commons until the Omicron variant was discovered shows a contempt for public health and sent the wrong message to the public.”

Uptake may be affected by confusion over the booster eligibility criteria. The charity Healthwatch Manchester said, based on feedback from local residents, there needs to be “better communication about the current eligibility criteria”.

“Some people who have contacted us have said that they thought that anyone could now get one, yet when they went to book were told they weren’t eligible.”

Meanwhile Healthwatch Brighton and Hove said the booster rollout is “going really well”.

“We think the NHS are doing the very best they can, of course there are things that might go wrong, but let’s support, not judge.”

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