Booster jabs are to be offered to 32 million people as early as next month to protect the most vulnerable before winter, it was reported last night.
Up to 2,000 pharmacies will run the programme so that the NHS can focus on the 5.3 million patients caught in a backlog of treatments.
Ministers aim to deliver an average of almost 2.5 million third doses a week, starting from September, The Daily Telegraph reported. The highest number of doses in one day so far was 873,784 on March 20 this year.
Adults aged 50 and over, as well as those who are immunosuppressed, will be offered the extra doses from as early as Monday September 6, which could allow for the programme to be completed by early December.
Proposals have been drawn up for it to be given with the flu shot. The idea of an injection in each arm was floated.
A government source said that the proposal “depends on final JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] advice and coronavirus vaccine booster trials”.
Seven vaccines are being tested, with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s mRNA technology as well as Novavax, which uses a subunit protein, showing positive results in preliminary data, it is understood.
An NHS spokesman said: “Community pharmacies have been an important part of the Covid vaccination programme, the biggest and most successful in the health service’s history, and they will continue to play a vital role.”
The proposal comes as more patients are paying for life-saving private surgery, including £20,000 heart operations, because NHS waiting lists are so long.
Private medical providers say that the demand for “self-funded” surgery has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic as a record number of people, including 4,000 patients who have been waiting for two years, join the backlog for treatment.
Britain’s largest private hospital group, HCA Healthcare, said that there had been an increase in “higher acuity care” during the pandemic, including a 20 per cent increase in “self-funded cardiothoracic inpatient procedures”, The Daily Mail reported. This includes operations such as a heart bypass, which can cost £17,500.
Health officials fear that the backlog could grow to 13 million as more patients come forward.