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JANET STREET-PORTER: Don't wait to be asked, get off your butts and walk-in for a booster jab today

Are we sleepwalking to another avoidable disaster?

The initial vaccine rollout in the UK was a world-beater and those responsible were rightly applauded.

But covid doesn't respect complacency.

This deadly virus constantly mutates and earlier in the summer experts warned us that a third booster dose of vaccine was needed six months after a second jab if the NHS was not going to be overwhelmed by a combination of Covid and seasonal flu.

The signs are already ominous. Covid is on the march again and time is running out.

At the start of this week, almost 50,000 new covid cases were recorded in a day - the highest figure since mid July - along with almost 1,000 hospital admissions. These figures are up almost seven percent on the previous week, with deaths rising by 11.4 percent.

A nurse administers a vaccine booster on October 5 in Cwmbran, Wales

More than half of those eligible for a third jab - 4.8 million - have yet to receive it, and as their immunity starts to wane, infection rates are rising.

No wonder there's worrying talk of yet another lockdown by Christmas if the graph continues to show an upward trajectory.

There is even a new 'super' Delta variant in town that is 10-15 percent more infectious and already makes up 10 percent of new cases.

In mid-September the government promised that those at most risk- the over 80s and the clinically vulnerable - would receive a third booster jab by the middle of December. And they announced that everyone over 50 was eligible for a third jab six months after their 2nd dose.

Hoorah!

However, we were told not to contact our GPs, but sit at home and 'wait to be invited'. I've spent weeks waiting and so have most of the elderly people I know.

I guess not surprising if sending out the invites is down to GPs who are already complaining they are overworked and that they are not going to comply with the government's latest directive to abandon social distancing and see more patients face to face.

The Home Park vaccination centre in Plymouth, Devon, which was quiet Tuesday afternoon

If GPs are so over-worked, perhaps the task of contacting the 30 million people in nine priority groups who should be getting a booster asap could have been handled differently?

The rollout of the booster programme has been snail-like compared to the soaraway success of the initial campaign. Last Spring the public were being jabbed at the rate of 400,000 a day, but the rate for boosters has crept up to 180,000 from a pathetic 150,000 ten days ago.

Probably realising that NHS wards could be full of wheezing covid and flu victims by Christmas, the government has announced a new advertising campaign (launching later this week), urging us to rush along and get our booster jabs. (It's bound to exhort us to 'save our NHS'.)

Some pundits are claiming that 'booster reluctance' could be one of the reasons why only half of the over-80s have had a third jab. In my experience, this is utter tosh.

JANET STREET_PORTER: GPs are overpaid, understaffed, overworked

The roll out is an inconsistent shambles, it depends on postcodes and staffing levels at local GP's health centres, who are the people charged with contacting patients.

GPs are overpaid, understaffed, overworked. Sending out invites in another item in their intray, along with reminding people to have their flu jabs.

The result is confusion and anxiety. One of my friend's stepfather has been jabbed but not her mother, who is 10 years older. Another pal's 90-year-old mother is sitting at home waiting for her 'invite', scared to go out.

I'm 74 and have been suffering from some booster anxiety - definitely not BOOSTER RELUCTANCE. Every day for the last fortnight I've logged on to the website, only to be rejected, and told to 'wait to be invited'.

I logged on to my GP's website to try and have a chat, only to read a message: 'All appointments have gone, try again tomorrow'. Meanwhile some cheeky friends (in their 50s) got boosters by chancing their luck and strolling into the nearest chemist and vaccination centre.

How much vaccine is going unused because of lack of invited customers? We'll never know.

By today, I'd had enough of waiting, I found three walk-in vaccine centres near my home and just turned up at one - 10 minutes later I was jabbed. The chemist told me they had only vaccinated 70 people so far that day and it was already 3pm. The previous day it had been just 100.

There's no shortage of walk-in centres in central London, but there is a shortage of 'invitations'. Jabbers should be touring the streets with tannoys begging everyone over 50 to get a third jab straightaway and not waste a single day agonising about whether it's five months or five and a half months since their 2nd jab. Otherwise, we'll all be facing yet another lockdown.

To add insult to injury, I couldn't even get my free flu jab because the vaccine had run out!

The booster message is not reaching those who are eligible. They must forget about waiting for their GPs to ask them in when it suits them - we're not talking about a celebrity tea party or breakfast with Madonna, just a quick and simple jab. They must cadge a lift to the nearest walk-in centre and demand their rights.

One NHS bigwig claimed the slow roll out was due to a 'systems issue' - because vaccinators are having to do three things at once; give teenagers their first dose, administer 2nd doses to young adults, and give third jabs to the elderly and clinically vulnerable and health and care workers.

Try as I might, that doesn't seem too complicated. Flu jabs are dished out at fast-speed in High Street chemists, so why should covid jabs be more difficult? If we lack vaccinators, is this a job that demands a high level of skill? Would it not be easy to allow dentists, nurses and pharmacists at all high street outlets to offer booster jabs along with prescriptions and headache pills, eye tests and wisdom teeth removal?

In my experience, the older you get the most time you spend at these places. Now, the government is planning to allow children aged between 12 and 15 to simply turn up at a walk-in centre and get their jabs.

Only one in six have been vaccinated in the month they have been included in the rollout. That will add to the chaos as the elderly and vulnerable sit alongside the super-spreaders.

Currently, new cases of Covid are largest amongst secondary school children and their parents. That's no consolation to older people who have to shop and go about their daily lives in close proximity to these groups, at the very time the efficacy of their double doses starts to wane. Amongst the young, Covid is mostly just like a bad cold, but if you're a pensioner, it's another matter.

Everyone over 50 must be prioritised for a booster jab by Christmas, full stop. Yes, I'm triple jabbed, and slightly smug.

And so should you be.