Responding to the Government’s announcement yesterday of offering everyone over-18 in England a booster jab by the end of December, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
“Despite describing the current situation as an ‘emergency’ with a ‘tidal wave’ of infections on the horizon, the Government’s response relying entirely on the vaccine booster programme is missing the wider measures required to control the spread of Omicron, including protecting millions of people who will not be eligible for the booster programme by the end of December.
“The booster jab is an essential weapon in the fight against Omicron, and doctors in particular GPs and their teams when supported will be doing everything they can to create capacity to rise to this challenge to protect the nation at this time of urgent need. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people will not be eligible for a booster by the end of December, because they will either currently be unvaccinated, or somewhere in the process of having the first two doses. Most are younger people, who are often the most socially mobile and most likely to inadvertently spread Covid. That is why we need additional protections over and above the vaccination programme, given the significant numbers that will not be due their booster for months into the next year.
“This requires robust infection control measures in the community especially where people mix in indoor settings. This must include:
- mandatory wearing of face masks to be extended to all hospitality settings, unless eating or drinking
- reintroducing two-metre social distancing rules in all indoor public settings
- much more widespread use of lateral flow tests before social mixing in all settings should be the norm and the expectation for entry to all hospitality venues, regardless of vaccination status
- limiting large indoor gatherings that risk accelerating the spread of the virus
- legal requirements on ventilation in indoor public and educational settings
- recommending the wearing of FFP2 masks (which provide protection for the wearer) in particular for those who are clinically vulnerable
- infection control measures to be reintroduced in healthcare settings, including high-grade FFP3 masks where healthcare workers are seeing patients suspected or actual cases of patients with Covid
- we must also see the Government ensure enforcement and adherence of these measures, including financial support where appropriate to businesses that would be adversely impacted
“The BMA is calling for the Government to rethink its policy on vaccine passports based on being double vaccinated. Omicron has shifted the goalposts with studies showing you need the booster to be sufficiently protected against this new variant.
“The NHS is severely understaffed, which means that delivering a mass booster programme as well as treating surges in Covid infections while simultaneously maintaining normal services, appointments, and treatments is potentially impossible – and Government must face the reality of that. General practice in particular is facing significant workforce shortages, meaning GPs and their teams cannot do everything for everyone all at the same time. There are significant backlog pressures within the NHS and large volumes of urgent unmet need that simply cannot be delayed, we are discussing with Government and NHSEI how we can ensure patients get the care they need now and in the coming months.
“Finally, we are calling on the Government to be honest with the public about the impact of this new wave of infection on current healthcare services. This must not result in hardworking doctors being blamed, scapegoated, or subject to abuse for the reduction in access to routine services in hospital and general practice.
“This is not about introducing lockdown restrictions, but about safeguarding the NHS whilst maintaining a functioning society in a safe and responsible manner in the context of an exceptionally transmissible new variant.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.