Former vaccine chief returns to NHS amid concerns about pace of booster jabs rollout

UK

The former head of England’s coronavirus vaccine delivery drive is returning to the NHS to lead the booster jabs rollout amid growing concerns about COVID-19’s impact this winter.

Dr Emily Lawson had played a key role in the success of the initial rollout of coronavirus vaccines but in April she moved to Downing Street’s “delivery unit”, a team that works on implementing the government’s policies.

She has now returned to her previous job in a decision that could have been made in response to the slower pace of the booster jabs rollout.

Fewer than half of eligible residents in older age care homes in England have received a third jab, the latest available NHS data suggests.

About one in nine of those who had their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine have had their third – an estimated 5.3 million people.

On Friday, Dr Lawson said: “The next phase of the vaccination programme is extremely important – we know that the vaccine is helping us to save lives and so we must focus all of our efforts on rolling out the booster campaign to everyone eligible, as well as ensuring that everyone who has not yet had their first jab, including young people, get the chance to come forward.”

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It comes as scientific advisers told the government it needs to be able to “rapidly deploy” coronavirus restrictions known as “Plan B” if needed.

Experts in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said in a meeting that another huge surge in cases was “increasingly unlikely” in January, predicting a series of broader, flatter peaks.

The group had previously warned that Plan B measures, which include the mandatory use of face masks, would be most effective if they were implemented at the same time earlier on rather than later.

SAGE said the “reintroduction of working-from-home guidance is likely to have the greatest individual impact on transmission out of the proposed measures” in Plan B.

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In an interview with The Times, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the UK could not return to “significant economic restrictions”, which was unnecessary due to the success of the vaccine rollout.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also asked on Friday whether a full lockdown with “stay at home” advice and closed shops was out of the question.

He replied: “I’ve got to tell you at the moment that we see absolutely nothing to indicate that that’s on the cards at all.”

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