The UK’s covid-19 vaccination programme has been a recognised success story. It is the largest vaccination programme ever undertaken by the NHS. We are working at speed to get people their covid-19 booster vaccines. Our vaccination programme is making great progress, with over 15.3 million people across the UK already having taken their covid-19 booster or third jab.
It is great to hear about the uptake of the booster vaccine nationally. I have seen some data to suggest that in Milton Keynes, uptake is slightly below the national average. We have some great advertising campaigns—MKFM, for example, has been really good on this—but what more can we do to encourage people who need to take the booster to protect themselves and protect the NHS over the winter?
I think my hon. Friend might be wearing a booster badge, because I understand that he has taken his own boost this morning. What more encouragement would the people of Milton Keynes want than their very own Member of Parliament getting boosted? I can tell him that the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes clinical commissioning group is in regular dialogue with Healthwatch and the local authority to see what more it can do to encourage local people to take up their booster jabs, and the national “Boost your immunity” campaign is helping to encourage more and more people to come forward, not just for their booster jab but for their vital flu jab.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and for the speed of the booster roll-out. In fact, it is so speedy that the criteria for getting a booster are changing all the time, and many constituents have contacted me confused about exactly what the criteria are. I have spoken to my CCGs to try to get them to improve the public engagement that they are doing, but will my right hon. Friend lay out what the criteria are for getting a booster at the moment, and what support he is giving to CCGs so that they can get the message out to people and get them into walk-in centres or booking their appointment for a booster?
My hon. Friend will understand that there is often good reason to change the criteria. They might be changed, for example, on the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation; the Government must of course consider that advice and take it seriously. As was mentioned earlier, we are extending the booster jab to 40 to 49-year-olds. NHS England has issued guidance to CCGs on the covid-19 vaccination programme, which includes guidance on eligibility for booster vaccines and how to manage those appointments. We encourage everyone to visit the NHS website on gov.uk for the very latest information on the programme.
A disabled member of my community needs the booster and is very keen to have it. However, he is housebound and unable to go the 1.2 miles to where the booster is being offered. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure that people who are housebound and unable to leave their homes can get the booster that they desperately need?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. Hundreds of thousands of people have received their booster jabs directly from primary care—from their GPs—in most of the type of cases that she describes. If anyone is housebound or, for example, in a care home, they will receive a visit from their GP. That has happened up and down the country. If the hon. Lady is aware of any individual that has not received such contact, I ask her please to contact me, and I will do everything I can to assist.
Take-up of the booster jab in Northern Ireland has been somewhat behind, although it is now beginning to catch up. Does the Secretary of State agree that the roll-out is best done as a voluntary roll-out, so that we can persuade people that it is a good thing, and that it protects both them and their family and friends, to take up the booster jab?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. The general vaccination programme for covid-19, or any other vaccine for that matter, should be voluntary. It should be a positive decision that people take to protect themselves and those around them. The only exception to that in England, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is those who work with vulnerable people in the NHS or in social care. Otherwise, it absolutely should be a positive decision that people are encouraged to take.