Over-70s trying to book Covid vaccines online offered appointments up to 60 miles from home

‘I’ll probably get Covid before a jab’ Over-70s trying to book vaccines online on first day of new scheme are offered appointments a 120-mile round trip from home as others say they’ve tried calling 200 times with no success

  • NHS changes its messaging to over-70s from ‘we’ll contact you’ to ‘contact us’ as it approaches 15m target
  • But some Britons say they are being offered jabs up to 60 miles away or can’t find themselves on the system 
  • 12m people have already been immunised and an average of 450,000 are being vaccinated every day
  • Over-70s can now book their appointments using this NHS booking service link instead of waiting to hear
  • Have you had problems booking a jab online since it launched last night? Email martin.robinson@mailonline.co.uk 

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Britons trying to book a Covid jab online have told MailOnline the system is failing them with vulnerable pensioners facing a round-trip of 120 miles or more for a slot or can’t get through to the phone line.

Other over-70s following Mr Hancock’s advice say that cannot get through to the 119 hotline with one reader claiming she has called 200 times but has been unable to secure an appointment for her stroke-survivor mother, 82. 

The new NHS portal has failed to recognise their name or NHS number in some cases after the service launched yesterday, critics have said. 

Henry Tuttlebeck, from Carlisle, told MailOnline: ‘I booked online and was offered Newcastle or Kendal, both 50miles away. There’s 6ins of snow in my garden. I’ve got to drive 100miles in the middle of winter and queue with lots of other people. So far I’ve been lucky but I’ll probably get the virus before I get the jab’. 

The Health Secretary last night trumpeted the success of the roll-out so far, confirming the NHS is on track to hit its target of immunising the 15million most vulnerable Brits by next Monday.    

And Mr Hancock urged all over-70s in England who haven’t yet had a Covid vaccine to book their own online. People in that age group can now schedule an appointment using the NHS booking service or those unable to get online can phone 119. 

But the system appears to be having some teething troubles, and MailOnline has been inundated with complaints.

Ian Kingham from Scarborough told MailOnline: ‘Everything was fine until I entered my postcode to find my nearest vaccination centre, and was offered one on the far side of York. According to the AA’s route finder from my house to this centre is 43.2 miles one way, or an 86.4 miles round trip’. 

Liz Miles, from Nottinghamshire, told MailOnline she has made 200 calls to try to get an appointment for her unwell mother, 82. She said: ‘I heard Matt Hancock saying all over 70’s can now ring and book in so they get it before next weeks deadline but it’s not as easy as that in Nottinghamshire. I just don’t know where to turn!’ 

Mike Griggs wrote on social media: ‘Tried to book a covid vaccination online tonight as instructed by Mr Hancock, nearest centre I was offered was 26 miles away, the furthest 56 miles away, the actual nearest is 2 miles then 6 and 8 miles’.

Lisa-Jayne Smith, from Cumbria, tweeted: ‘Over 70 with cerebral palsy but has not been called up for a #vaccine… go online to try to book an appointment for him… the nearest #vaccination centre according to the @NHS website (bearing in mind there is one in his town centre)? … 37.1 miles away!! How does that work?!   

People trying to book a Covid jab for themselves or loved-ones have encountered problems with the new NHS portal

People trying to book a Covid jab for themselves or loved-ones have encountered problems with the new NHS portal

People trying to book a Covid jab for themselves or loved-ones have encountered problems with the new NHS portal

People trying to book a Covid jab for themselves or loved-ones have encountered problems with the new NHS portal

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street press conference tonight that the NHS is on track to hit its target of offering Covid vaccines to 15million most vulnerable Brits by this time next week

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street press conference tonight that the NHS is on track to hit its target of offering Covid vaccines to 15million most vulnerable Brits by this time next week

The NHS is now vaccinating an average of 450,000 people per day across the UK with hundreds of centres open for patients over the age of 70. Pictured: 73-year-old Richard Moss gets vaccinated at Elland Road football stadium in Leeds

The NHS is now vaccinating an average of 450,000 people per day across the UK with hundreds of centres open for patients over the age of 70. Pictured: 73-year-old Richard Moss gets vaccinated at Elland Road football stadium in Leeds

Almost 12.5million have already received their first dose of vaccine and the health service is administering 450,000 on average every day, putting it well on track to hit the milestone next Monday

Almost 12.5million have already received their first dose of vaccine and the health service is administering 450,000 on average every day, putting it well on track to hit the milestone next Monday

Brits over 70 who are registered with a GP but haven't received their first Covid jab are being encouraged to come forward to book their own appointments

Brits over 70 who are registered with a GP but haven’t received their first Covid jab are being encouraged to come forward to book their own appointments

Previously, over-70s were told to wait until they were contacted — through a letter, email, text or phone call — to ensure all over-80s, care home residents and patients with serious underlying health conditions had first access. 

Mr Hancock said take-up of the vaccines has so far been ‘significantly better than we hoped for’, claiming it has hit a staggering 95 per cent in people in their late 70s, 91 per cent of over-80s and almost three quarters of people in their early 70s. He said the Government had been expecting approximately 75 per cent.

Boris Johnson refuses to rule out making lockdown LONGER if South African variant continues to spread 

Boris Johnson today refused to rule out extending lockdown if the South African variant continues to spread amid fears Oxford University’s vaccine may not stop people falling ill with the mutant strain.

An alarming study found the British-made jab had ‘minimal effect’ in preventing mild disease caused by the strain, suggesting vaccinated people may still be able to catch and spread it. One prominent SAGE adviser claimed the finding meant ‘more restrictions might be needed for longer’.

Pressed on whether there may need to be a delay to easing restrictions if the jab is proven to be less effective at reducing transmission of the South African variant, the Prime Minister said vaccines are ‘going to offer a way out’ and ‘remain of massive benefit to our country’ — but failed to dismiss the prospect of a lockdown extension.

During a visit to a coronavirus test manufacturing facility in Derby, he said: ‘We’re very confident in all the vaccines that we’re using. And I think it’s important for people to bear in mind that all of them, we think, are effective in delivering a high degree of protection against serious illness and death, which is the most important thing.’

Top experts — including Oxford academics and the UK’s leading vaccine panel — also believe the jab will protect against severe illness, ultimately easing pressure on the NHS when lockdown restrictions are eventually lifted and saving tens of thousands of lives.

Health minister Edward Argar told the public not to lose sight of the main purpose of jabs – which is to drive down hospital admissions and deaths to manageable levels. His comments echoed those of vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi, who said preventing severe disease was the ‘vitally important’ factor for the roll-out.

Government sources insisted the worrying study — which prompted South Africa to stop dishing out the Oxford jab — had not changed the plan to get schools back from March 8. However, they pointed out the PM had cited the threat of new variants as a factor that will be taken into account when decisions are made on easing lockdown.

So far there have only been 147 confirmed cases of the South African variant in the UK but this is likely to be a vast underestimate because up until last week officials were only analysing 10 per cent of random positive swabs.

Scientists say the true number of cases is likely 10 to 20 times higher than the official count. No10 has deployed extra testing into more than 10 areas of England where the South African strain is thought to be spreading in the community.

It comes as at least ten vaccination centres due to inoculate thousands were shut today as Storm Darcy struck the UK with 50mph winds and a foot of snow turning roads into ‘lethal’ ice rinks. More than 12million Brits have already had their first dose, with the Government on course to hit its ambitious target of vaccinating 15million by February 15.

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Frontline health and social care workers, who are also at the top of the priority list, are also being urged to come forward and arrange an appointment if they’ve not had a dose. And GP practices have been told to contact any extremely vulnerable patients who have still yet to receive their first injection. 

Figures show another 270,000 Covid vaccines were administered yesterday, which marked another Sunday dip for the otherwise successful programme. A combination of GP surgeries being closed and supply issues is thought to be the cause for the Sunday stumbles.

Meanwhile, Downing Street said today it expects to have vaccinated all over-50s by the end of April, raising hopes that Britain could drop the vast majority of curbs in May. Boris Johnson is under pressure to step up the reopening of the country as soon as the top nine groups – around 32million people – are covered.

Britain is jabbing at record pace, dishing out more vaccines per person than any country in the world other than Israel. But there are fears that the world-beating rollout could be undermined if the South African Covid variant becomes more widespread. 

A study published yesterday suggested Oxford University’s vaccine may not stop people falling ill with the mutant strain. Mr Johnson today refused to rule out extending lockdown if the strain continues to spread. 

But Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, called for calm in today’s press conference and said this was ‘not a surprise’ and that scientists were tackling it behind the scenes. He said he remains confident that vaccines will still have a ‘substantial effect’ against the variant. 

Mr Hancock said: ‘From today, I have a message for everyone aged 70 and above. Until now, we’ve said please wait for the NHS to contact you. But now that message is changing. 

‘If you live in England and are 70 and over and have not yet got an appointment to be vaccinated, then please contact the NHS. 

‘The easiest way to do this is through the national booking service online at NHS.uk or if you cant get online then you can call 119 or you can speak to your local GP practice.’  

The NHS has also urged people who have been given two jab slots to cancel one so the slot can be used by someone else.

This might occur if a patient’s GP surgery books an appointment as well as the national booking service. 

Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director for primary care at NHS England and a practising GP, said: ‘The NHS vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history, is off to a strong start with every eligible care home receiving a visit and millions more people being vaccinated at one of over 1,500 centres across the country thanks to the tireless efforts of my colleagues.

‘But if you are aged 70 and over, and haven’t yet received your vaccine, please come forward and make an appointment as soon as you can.

‘The vaccine is safe, simple, and will offer you and those around you crucial protection against this virus.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: ‘Thanks to the huge efforts of the NHS, volunteers and local authorities we have vaccinated an incredible 12 million vulnerable people so far – including around nine in 10 of all over-70s.

‘We are on track to meet our goal of offering everyone in the top four priority groups a jab.

‘So far we have said please wait until the NHS contacts you. I now urge everyone aged 70 and over who hasn’t yet had a vaccination to come forward and contact the NHS to book in their jab.

‘And if you have grandparents, relatives and friends over 70, please encourage them to book an appointment as soon as possible, so they can be protected against this awful virus.

‘Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic and, by ensuring you and your loved ones get booked in for a jab, the NHS can give those most at-risk the protection they need as we continue to fight this disease together.

It comes after an alarming study found the Oxford University jab had ‘minimal effect’ in preventing mild disease caused by the South African strain, suggesting vaccinated people may still be able to catch and spread it.  

Pressed on whether there may need to be a delay to easing restrictions if the jab is proven to be less effective at reducing transmission of the South African variant, the Prime Minister said vaccines are ‘going to offer a way out’ and ‘remain of massive benefit to our country’ — but failed to dismiss the prospect of a lockdown extension.

During a visit to a coronavirus test manufacturing facility in Derby, he said: ‘We’re very confident in all the vaccines that we’re using. And I think it’s important for people to bear in mind that all of them, we think, are effective in delivering a high degree of protection against serious illness and death, which is the most important thing.’

Top experts — including Oxford academics and the UK’s leading vaccine panel — also believe the jab will protect against severe illness, ultimately easing pressure on the NHS when lockdown restrictions are eventually lifted and saving tens of thousands of lives.

Health minister Edward Argar told the public not to lose sight of the main purpose of jabs – which is to drive down hospital admissions and deaths to manageable levels. 

His comments echoed those of vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi, who said preventing severe disease was the ‘vitally important’ factor for the roll-out.

Government sources insisted the worrying study — which prompted South Africa to stop dishing out the Oxford jab — had not changed the plan to get schools back from March 8. 

However, they pointed out the PM had cited the threat of new variants as a factor that will be taken into account when decisions are made on easing lockdown.

So far there have only been 147 confirmed cases of the South African variant in the UK but this is likely to be a vast underestimate because up until last week officials were only analysing 10 per cent of random positive swabs.

Scientists say the true number of cases is likely 10 to 20 times higher than the official count. 

No10 has deployed extra testing into more than 10 areas of England where the South African strain is thought to be spreading in the community. 

Health workers administer a Covid-19 vaccine at a drive through vaccination centre at Batchwood Hall in St Albans, north of London, today

Health workers administer a Covid-19 vaccine at a drive through vaccination centre at Batchwood Hall in St Albans, north of London, today

During a visit to a coronavirus test manufacturing facility in Derby, Boris Johnson refused to rule out extending lockdown if the South African variant continues to spread

During a visit to a coronavirus test manufacturing facility in Derby, Boris Johnson refused to rule out extending lockdown if the South African variant continues to spread

It comes as a World Health Organization director hailed the UK’s decision to delay the second dose of Covid jabs, describing it as a ‘brave’ move. 

Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s chief Covid-19 expert, said Britain’s decision has been ‘a great lesson to the rest of the world’.

The gamble was controversial when announced by UK regulators, who over-ruled scientists who said the Oxford and Pfizer Covid vaccine doses should be given no more than three weeks apart because this is what had been done in clinical trials.

Covid vaccine centre in Hackney has to close early because of ‘really low uptake’ 

A Covid vaccination centre in London has had to reduce its opening hours because not enough people are coming forward for the jab.

The John Scott inoculation hub in Hackney, East London, claimed ‘really slow patient uptake’ forced it to close at 2pm on three days last week.

The centre, which is open to patients from 40 GP surgeries, had been administering vaccines from 10am until 8pm every day until the sudden drop-off in appointments.

Health chiefs fear vaccine hesitancy among black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) groups is behind the poor uptake in the diverse inner London borough. Around 45 per cent of Hackney’s population is made up of people from BAME backgrounds, predominantly of black African or Caribbean ethnicity.

Numerous surveys have shown minorities – who studies have shown are up to three times as likely to die from Covid – are more reluctant to get the jabs due to a mistrust in the Government.

And a report over the weekend suggested twice as many white over-80s had been for a jab compared to elderly black Britons.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said today officials had been too slow to shut down anti-vaxx myths online.

Other vaccine hubs and GP practices have already began jabbing the over-60s after successful roll-outs in their areas. Health officials could move to lower risk groups if uptake remains low in Hackney — but the priority remains the over-70s, NHS staff, care home residents and workers.

NHS City and Hackney clinical commissioning group said staff ha

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But government experts said a single dose of either jab appeared to offer enough protection against Covid that people could wait another nine weeks for their second.

This policy has led to a staggering 12million people getting their first dose of a Covid vaccine in the UK already – more than in any other country in Europe.

Dr Nabarro told Sky News: ‘I think the UK’s approach so far as been vindicated.’ 

The World Health Organization, however, has still refused to endorse the approach and its advice is still to use the three-week gap. Pfizer also did not give its blessing. 

Although 511,000 people have already had a second dose of their vaccine in the UK, the vast majority are being postponed and will start in March, by which time at least the 15million over-70s and most vulnerable will have had a first dose. 

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Dr Nabarro said: ‘The advice of the WHO on intervals between vaccine doses was based on what the manufacturers did in what we call the phase three trials of the vaccine.

‘WHO and its committees really has to work on the basis of what manufacturers have told them, but isn’t it wonderful that it has turned out, as a result of the UK’s bravery, frankly, that these extended intervals seem to be associated with greater protection.’

He added: ‘Yes, I think the UK’s approach so far as been vindicated and, yes, it has taught a great lesson for the rest of the world. Thank you, British scientists.’

Government scientists and ministers had been repeatedly forced to justify their decision to tear up the manufacturer instructions on the Covid vaccines.

When the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs got emergency approval, both came with the recommendation that everyone get the second dose three weeks after the first.

But, in the face of an out-of-control outbreak with the new fast-spreading variant, and a ‘lumpy’ vaccine supply chain, officials extended the window to three months.

Doctors and independent researchers were furious, saying there was no evidence the vaccines worked in this way and it would deprive people of second doses they had been promised. But the UK regulator held its line.

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said at a Downing Street press conference in January: ‘By extending the gap we are going to, over the next three months, be able to essentially double the number of people who will be vaccinated.

‘So if, by a process of not very difficult mathematics, if over that period there is more than 50 per cent protection then you’ve actually won. 

‘More people will, overall, have been protected than would have been otherwise. 

‘And our quite strong view is that we think the protection will be quite a lot more than 50 per cent so therefore in net public health terms there will be substantially more protection by going faster.’

He said it was still SAGE and the Government’s view that everybody needs a second dose and said there had been ‘vigorous scientific debate’ about the policy. 

Professor Whitty added: ‘Clearly, if we had infinite vaccines we might have taken a different approach but, clearly, we don’t.

‘At this point in time, for the next three to four months, the number of vaccines we have available is going to constrain our ability to get through the 25 to 30million people we must do to get through all of the JCVI areas.’ 

WILL THE CURRENT VACCINES WORK AGAINST SOUTH AFRICAN COVID VARIANT? 

The South African variant of coronavirus, known as B.1.351, has mutations on its outer spike proteins that change the shape of the virus in a way that makes it look different to the body than older versions of the virus.

Because the immune system’s antibodies are so specific, any change in the part of the virus that they attach to – in this case the spikes – can affect how well they can do so.

Current vaccines have been developed using versions of the virus from a year ago, which didn’t have the mutations the South African variant does, so scientists are worried the immunity they create won’t be good enough to stop it.

Here’s what we know about the vaccines and the variant so far:

Oxford/AstraZeneca (Approved; Being used in the UK)

Research published in February claimed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine appears to have a ‘minimal effect’ against the South African variant.

A study of 2,000 people by the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg found that two doses of the jab may only offer 10-20 per cent protection against mild or moderate Covid-19.

Nobody in the test group developed severe Covid-19 but the researchers said this ‘could not be assessed in this study as the target population were at such low risk’. Participants’ average age was 31 and they were otherwise healthy. 

Scientists working on the vaccine said they still believe it will be protective. 

Oxford and AstraZeneca said they are already working on a booster jab targeted at the South African variant and that it will be ready by autumn.     

Pfizer/BioNTech (Approved; Being used in the UK)

Two studies suggest that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine will protect against the South African variant, although its ability to neutralise the virus is lower.

One by Pfizer itself and the University of Texas found that the mutations had ‘small effects’ on its efficacy. In a lab study on the blood of 20 vaccine recipients they found a reduction in the numbers of working antibodies to tackle the variant, but it was still enough to destroy the virus, they said. 

Another study by New York University has made the same finding on 10 blood samples from people who had the jab. That team said there was a ‘partial resistance’ from the variant and that a booster should be made, but that it would still be more effective than past infection with another variant.

Pfizer is developing an updated version of its jab to tackle the variant. 

Moderna (Approved; Delivery expected in March)

Moderna said its vaccine ‘retains neutralizing activity’ in the face of the South African variant.

In a release in January the company said it had tested the jab on the blood of eight people who had received it and found that antibody levels were significantly lower when it was exposed to the South Africa variant, but it still worked.

It said: ‘A six-fold reduction in neutralizing [antibodies] was observed with the B.1.351 variant relative to prior variants. Despite this reduction, neutralizing levels with B.1.351 remain above levels that are expected to be protective.’

Moderna is working on a booster jab to tackle the South African variant.

Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (Awaiting approval; 30m doses)

Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, has trialled its vaccine in South Africa and found it prevented 57 per cent of Covid cases.

This was the lowest efficacy the company saw in its global trials – in Latin America it was 66 per cent and in the US 72 per cent. These differences are likely in part due to the variants in circulation.

The vaccine was 85 per cent effective at stopping severe disease and 100 per cent effective at stopping death from Covid-19, even in South Africa where the variant is dominant, Janssen said.   

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