Armed forces drafted in to help deliver boosters

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Military personnel are to be drafted in to help the NHS get Covid-19 booster jabs into arms.

The Ministry of Defence said that about 750 servicemen and women will help deliver jabs and co-ordinate the rollout in England and Scotland.

Some 600 personnel from across the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force have been made available to NHS England, delivering jabs in small teams across the country, and another 51 will help with planning, while more than 100 are assisting in Scotland, the Ministry of Defence said.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “We have rapidly mobilised service personnel to work alongside our dedicated health services to accelerate the vaccine booster programme.

“Our armed forces will help to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible as we continue our efforts to support the UK’s response to the pandemic.”

It comes as St John Ambulance made an urgent appeal for volunteers to help the vaccination effort.

The charity’s head of community response, Adam Williams, said: “St John Ambulance recruited and trained almost 30,000 vaccination volunteers – including 20,000 vaccinators – between November and March.

“If everyone who trained to vaccinate with St John steps forward now, even for just two six-hour shifts, we will have more than enough people to do everything that’s required of us over the next few weeks and help the nation get ahead of the Omicron variant.”

Vaccination volunteers have been contacted over the last few days, with more details of how to book shifts and a message from England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.

He wrote: “The vaccination programme has succeeded in achieving levels of protection previously unimaginable. You were a huge part of this achievement but now we need your help again to deliver booster vaccinations at a real rate of knots.

“It’s going to require a Herculean effort and I am asking you personally to be a part of it by undertaking vaccinator shifts as soon as you possibly can.

“Through your efforts, St John Ambulance has so far helped countless people; please [help us] make sure we get the boosters delivered and save even more lives, protect our families, our communities, and our NHS.”

The rallying calls come as the NHS faced significant website traffic on Monday as people over the age of 30 became eligible to book their booster vaccine in England.

In a tweet, the health service said: “The Covid vaccine booking service is currently facing extremely high demand so is operating a queuing system.

“For users aged 18-29, please be aware that booking opens on Wednesday 15 Dec.

“For all others experiencing waits, we would advise trying again later today or tomorrow.”

Asked about people struggling to get an appointment through the booking portal, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said 110,000 people booked a booster before 9am on Monday.

But asked how the website would therefore cope with the much higher number of bookings needed, he said: “Across the programme we are increasing our capacity, be it making sure there is further capacity on the site to adapt to the increased demand, or indeed capacity on the ground.”

The NHS in England said that the opening hours for vaccine centres will be extended with more “pop-up” sites expected.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said: “It is fantastic to see so many people respond to our national mission to offer all adults the chance to get boosted by the end of the year, with more than 110,000 booking their jab by 9am this morning.

“As the NHS rallies to protect the country against the Omicron variant, we need to see the same levels of enthusiasm as we vaccinate the country at speed – so please don’t delay, come forward and book in for your booster today.

“The NHS has already stepped up to the mark and delivered the fastest and most successful vaccination programme in health service history and staff are once again doing everything possible to increase the number of appointments available every day.

“The best way to get your vaccine is by booking online or by calling 119 – please do keep checking availability as we load more appointments onto the system every day.”

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