The start of the COVID-19 booster campaign comes just 48 hours after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published final advice recommending a booster dose for over-50s, people in at-risk groups and health and care staff.
GP-led vaccination sites have been told to prioritise booster jabs for patients and staff in care homes and to offer the jab to all eligible patients in this group by 1 November.
PCN sites will begin rolling out booster doses within days alongside third-dose primary vaccination for immunocompromised patients and an 'evergreen' offer of jabs for patients in all eligible groups who remain unvaccinated - while also delivering the largest seasonal flu vaccination campaign in NHS history. Practices will also support the schools-based COVID-19 vaccination campaign for 12- to 15-year-olds.
The BMA has called for an immediate suspension of the QOF to reduce pressure on practices as they deliver vaccines to millions of eligible patients - and other NHS leaders have warned officials not to underestimate the workload involved for primary care.
NHS England said 'full vaccination rollout' of the booster campaign would start from next week as local GP-led and pharmacy sites complete final checks.
Officials confirmed that while the JCVI has recommended booster vaccination for all patients in the original nine priority groups offered COVID-19 jabs, some patients in these cohors 'will not be eligible for the top-up until the new year'.
GP practices have delivered around two thirds of the 77m doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in England - and more than four in five adults have now been fully vaccinated with two doses.
NHS England deputy lead for the COVID-19 vaccination programme Dr Nikki Kanani said: 'Alongside one of our busiest summers in the NHS, our hardworking staff have also been gearing up to deliver the autumn booster programme, to give further protection to healthcare and social care workers and those most at risk from the virus.
'The fast preparations of staff to get ready for boosters comes on the back of our biggest vaccination drive in health history which has delivered more than 77 million vaccinations across the country.'
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: 'It is brilliant to see that the first booster jabs are being rolled out today – thanks to the phenomenal efforts of the NHS who continue to work tirelessly to help us fight COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable.
'We know vaccines save lives and with every jab our wall of defence across the country gets higher, with more than 112,300 lives saved and over 24m cases prevented in England alone.'
Primary care teams
NHS Confederation director of primary care Ruth Rankine said primary care would 'continue to deliver' its crucial role in the vaccination campaign. But she warned: 'With nearly 28m general practice appointments taking place in July, primary care teams are going above and beyond for their local communities.
'We shouldn’t underestimate the additional work involved and we must acknowledge the time and investment it will take to deliver alongside the flu vaccination programme. This is as well as meeting an increasing demand for their services as well as managing patients waiting for secondary care.'
Health and social care secretary Mr Javid has faced criticism this week for being 'out of touch with reality' after telling MPs it was 'high time' practices offered face-to-face appointments to all patients who wanted them.
BMA leaders have also hit out at Mr Javid over comments on wearing of face masks after he suggested they should only be considered when people were among 'strangers'.