The Covid booster programme may be moving too slowly to prevent hospitals from becoming overcrowded this winter, experts have warned.

Only half of eligible over-80s have received a third dose of Covid vaccine one month into the programme, NHS figures suggest.

Of the 2.2 million people over 80 who had a second jab more than six months ago, fewer than 1.2 million have had the booster.

The UK's mass booster programme is a key part of the government’s winter plan, in addition to vaccinating children aged 12 to 15, and comes as Covid cases are rising.

On Sunday the UK reported 45,140 new cases, marking the highest daily number since mid-July, and 57 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data.

The UK's mass booster programme is a key part of the government’s winter plan (

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The number of people aged 65 to 84 admitted to hospital has risen 19 per cent in the past week; admissions are up 8 per cent among people over 85.

A reduced uptake in booster jabs is not surprising, according to Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care at Imperial College London.

He told the Sunday Times: “There was always going to be a drop-off between doses. It’s likely that some people who got a second dose won’t get a third. They’re just not interested.

“People were initially told that two doses were enough. They were in lockdown, and the vaccine was their ticket out of it. Now there’s much less incentive.”

About 25 million people over the age of 50 and vulnerable adults will be offered boosters by the end of winter (

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Getty)

Delays to the booster programme will have to be “resolved immediately” to avoid unnecessary pressures on the NHS, said Duncan Robertson, of Warwick University.

“Booster vaccinations are there to prevent hospitalisations and ultimately to save lives. Delays matter,” he said.

Those who are currently eligible for getting a third dose of the Covid vaccine are people are “most at risk from Covid-19 who have had a second dose of a vaccine at least six months ago,” according to the NHS.

About 25 million people over the age of 50 and vulnerable adults will be offered boosters by the end of winter, but at the current rate of 175,000 a day, some in their early fifties may not have booster jabs until mid-February – about eight months after most received their second dose.

On Sunday the UK reported the highest daily number of Covid cases since mid-July (

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Dr Simon Hodes, a GP in Watford, Hertfordshire, said: “I was pretty much in tears getting my first pizza boxes of Pfizer. But as time’s gone on, the desire has faded. People have pandemic burnout.”

Prof Majeed said one factor behind the delay may be how the vaccinations have been organised. When the programme started, most over-80s received it through their GP practices. “GPs are quite experienced in chasing people who won’t respond,” he said

Although some patients can still get a booster from their GP, the government has shifted more to using hospital hubs and vaccination centres. “A lot of practices were told to stop vaccinating.”

Those eligible are urged to book an appointment online or by phoning 119.

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