Millions of Covid vaccines could go to waste if young people fail to come forward for their top-up shot, it emerged today.
The booster programme has slowed in recent days to 143,000 jabs a day, barely a fifth of the number being dished out only three weeks ago.
This is despite 20million adults in England still being without their extra doses — or 40 per cent of all over-18s.
Young adults are least likely to have got their third dose, with barely 30 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds being boosted. In terms of those who are eligible, that got their second dose at least three months ago, only half have come forward.
The Health Secretary today called on the age group to get their boosters, saying it will help ‘keep you and your loved ones safe’.
But there are fears falling cases nationally and an ebbing sense of crisis will lead to fewer people coming forward for their jabs.
With the worst of the outbreak seemingly over, England is already looking to dump vaccine passports before the end of this month. Ministers are also calling for work from home guidance to be revoked, fearing it is doing serious damage to the economy.
Self-isolation will be cut to five days on Monday for vaccinated people who test positive, with Sajid Javid saying the move will make the UK the ‘freest in Europe’.
Booster uptake is lowest among young adults, who ministers are appealing to to get boosted. But in older age groups who are more at risk nearly everyone has got a third dose
There are more than 25million vaccine doses currently available in Britain, reports the i newspaper, enough for everyone who still needs a third dose.
But Pfizer and Moderna jabs — which are being used in the drive — have a shelf life of just nine months in the freezer and one month once thawed.
It means that millions stand to go to waste if they are not used in the coming months.
Covid cases have now peaked in every region of England, figures show
Covid cases have now peaked in every region of England, official data now shows in more proof that the worst of the Omicron outbreak is over.
Daily infections have dropped nationwide week-on-week for the last seven days, and yesterday dipped below six figures – to slightly less than 98,000 – for the first time in more than a fortnight.
Infections were only rising in the North East, but latest Government figures show they are now mirroring the rest of the country.
Fascinating maps show how the virus is seemingly fizzling out naturally, with cases having fallen week-on-week in roughly 87 per cent of areas.
The North East had become an Omicron hotspot in recent weeks after the outbreak migrated north, and it is home to seven of the 10 local authorities with the biggest outbreaks.
One in 40 people (2.6 per cent) living in the region tested positive in the most recent week, the highest of any point in the pandemic.
Hospitalisations – which are a lagging indicator – have continued to rise with almost 400 daily Covid admissions in the region last week, similar to levels seen during the devastating second wave.
But admissions to critical care beds have barely risen since England’s Covid outbreak began to spiral, which gave No10 the confidence it could ‘ride out’ the current wave. And a host of experts believe Omicron infections are now peaking in the country.
A Whitehall source told the newspaper: ‘There are worries about wastage — you plan for a certain number of people to come forward, and if they don’t you have a problem.’
Official figures show uptake is lowest among 18 to 24-year-olds where 28.9 per cent have been boosted (or 1.5 out of 5.3million in the age group up to January 13).
They are followed by 25 to 29-year-olds where 31.3 per cent have got their third dose (or 1.4 out of 4.5million), and 30 to 34-year-olds where 36.7 per cent have three jabs (1.7 out of 4.8million).
Uptake is highest among the over-75s where 91.7 per cent are boosted (4.5 out of 4.9million), and adults in their early 70s at 90 per cent (2.5 out of 2.8million).
Government figures show that while 80 per cent of the eligible population is now boosted, this falls to 57 per cent among 18 to 34-year-olds.
Older people are most at risk of suffering serious disease and being hospitalised if they catch the virus.
But scientists say boosters benefit all age groups because they slash the risk of hospitalisation by 88 per cent, and reduce the risk of a symptomatic infection by 70 per cent.
It comes as ministers today launched a new filter on Snapchat in an attempt to drive up jabbing rates in younger age groups.
A similar filter which also carries the slogan ‘I’ve had my booster’ has been available on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook since late November.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, urged young people to get their boosters so that the nation could ‘learn to live with Covid.
He said: ‘More than nine in 10 eligible over-50s have already received their top-up and we’re calling on young people to play their part and Get Boosted Now.
‘Vaccines provide strong protection against serious illness from Omicron and will help keep you and your loved ones safe.’
Frontline medics also called on everyone to get their top-up jabs.
Dr Kishan Bodalia, who works on intensive care wards in Birmingham and shot to fame after performing DJ sets in his kitchen, said: ‘As a doctor, I know that young people can often think they are invincible, but I am seeing more and more young people in hospital with Covid, with the vast majority of people in hospital being unvaccinated.
‘I want to remind people that you can still get seriously ill with the virus, so it is so important to get the jab to keep ourselves, your friends and loved ones safe.’
Boris Johnson threw open the booster drive to all over-18s amid concern over the arrival of the Omicron variant late last month.
He also set a target of delivering a million booster jabs a day, which the NHS came within a hairs’ breadth of reaching.
But after the Christmas period uptake of the jabs has slowed.
Figures show an average of 177,000 boosters were given out on Wednseday.
This is barely 20 per cent of the 840,000 that were being dished out every day just three weeks beforehand.
Britons can only get booster jabs if they are over-18 and have had their second dose at least three months ago.
If they catch Covid, they must wait a month before getting their top up dose.
More than 80 per cent of over-18s have already got two doses, but it is not clear what proportion of these is currently holding off getting a booster shot because they recently had the virus.
Across the UK, Covid cases are starting to fall although daily infections still remain at six figures. Cases are also now falling in every region, according to official data which suggests the worst of the wave may be over.
In England, Mr Javid has hailed the ‘encouraging signs’ but warned that hospitals remained under ‘significant pressure’, The Times reports.
The newspaper added that it was unlikely Covid passes would be renewed if the Department of Health argued it was no longer needed.
Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, yesterday pressed the Health Secretary to commit ‘to dropping domestic certification at the earliest possible opportunity’.
He replied: ‘I assure her and the House that as far as I am concerned we will not be keeping domestic certification in place a moment longer than absolutely necessary.’
Former cabinet minister Greg Clark called on Mr Javid to lift the curbs later this month, saying they ‘have an impact beyond Covid as we know’.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Javid cut the number of days people have to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid in England to five.
The Health Secretary told MPs that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed ‘that around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five’.
He added: ‘After reviewing all of the evidence, we’ve made the decision to reduce the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England. From Monday, people can test twice before they go — leaving isolation at the start of day six.
‘These two tests are critical to these balanced and proportionate plans, and I’d urge everyone to take advantage of the capacity we have built up in tests so we can restore the freedoms to this country while we’re keeping everyone safe.’