Vulnerable people will be at risk over Christmas due to the inadequate pace of England’s COVID booster rollout, a maths expert has warned.
John Roberts, from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, said that six million people eligible for a COVID booster jab in the UK have not yet had one.
He warned that the increase in the number of distributed third doses has stalled in recent days, meaning that the booster coverage for the eligible priority groups will not be complete by mid-January.
So far, 6,826,159 people have received a booster vaccine in the UK since the rollout began on 16 September.
This is about six million less than the number of over 50s and vulnerable people who received their second dose more than six months ago, making them eligible for a third dose.
Read more: When and where to order your NHS third vaccine dose
Roberts told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “My concern is that at the current rate we will still not complete the first priority groups 1-9 before mid-January.
“And that will mean that there will be a lot of mixing over Christmas with festive behavior before and after the day for people who have not gotten the extra protection from the booster, which really makes a huge difference.”
Research suggests that protection from Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines decreases at a considerable level over six months.
Protection against death for over 16 years provided by the AstraZenca vaccine reduced from 94.1% to 78.7%, according to Public Health England.
Death protection from the Pfizer vaccine is more robust, falling from 98.2% to 90.4%.
Boosters are now being given at walk-in vaccination sites without the need for an appointment after concerns were raised about the pace of rollout.
See: Walk-in sites that now offer coronavirus booster jabs
As of Monday, anyone in one of the eligible groups who received their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine at least six months ago can show up at one of hundreds of jabs sites across the UK.
People are advised to use the NHS online walk-in finder to check where their nearest center is.
NHS England said that almost all persons registered with a general practitioner live within 10 miles of a fixed vaccination site.
Dr. Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy NHS COVID-19 vaccination program said: “NHS staff make it as easy as possible for people to get their supplemental vaccination and from today people can now go online and find their nearest site and go and get their booster without delay.
“The booster is not just nice to have, it is really important protection prior to what we know will be a challenging winter.
“So if you are eligible, please check the site finder and take your plug.”
Who is eligible for a COVID booster jab?
You are eligible for a booster if you received your second dose more than six months ago and you are in one of the following groups:
people living in nursing homes for older adults
all adults aged 50 or over
frontline health and social workers
people aged 16-49 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for severe COVID-19
adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
See: Coronavirus in numbers – The death toll in the UK rises to 140,632