It sounds like a simple question: will every adult in England be able to get a booster vaccine by the end of December?
But it’s one that’s perplexed journalists and opposition politicians alike in recent days. Now it seems we have an answer.
On Sunday night, the Prime Minister said in his televised address that “everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.”
But within hours, there was speculation that what he actually meant was that people would be able to book a vaccine appointment by the end of the month.
Then came a press release from NHS England: “The NHS vaccination programme will offer every adult the chance to book a COVID-19 booster vaccine by the end of the year.” Some commentators took this as proof that the commitment was much less ambitious than the Prime Minister had made out.
On Monday, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting suggested the government was “shifting the goalposts.” He said a statement that day from Sajid Javid had revealed the government’s aim was merely “to ‘offer’ the booster to every adult by the end of the month, meaning that the delivery will wait until January or even February.”
Clarity at last?
So we approached the Department of Health to ask: what is the government committing to do and by when?
A spokesperson directed us to the Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday night: “Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.”
But what about the NHS press release on Monday? Surely this proves the promise is much feebler than the Prime Minister implied? The Department says otherwise.
“There was some confusion yesterday as the NHS said it would give the chance for everyone to book through the booking service by the end of the year” the Department told us.
“But,” it continued, “this is just a target for the booking service. We’re clear [that] people can use walk-in centres and other means before that.”
The online appointments booking system for boosters will be open for adults aged 18 to 30 from Wednesday 15 December.
Right now, unless you have a severely compromised immune system, you must be aged 30 or over to get a booster at a walk-in centre – i.e. without an appointment. (Some younger adults have reported being jabbed at walk-in sites, though this is not official policy).
The Department of Health said it couldn’t advise us on “exact timings” but that this would change to allow healthy adults in their teens and twenties to use walk-in centres.
Finally, we asked the Department to confirm whether “the government’s target is that by the end of December every adult will have been able to receive a booster vaccination if they want one.”
A spokesperson told FactCheck: “that’s right.”
There’s been some confusion over exactly what the government has promised to deliver in terms of boosters in England and by when.
The Department of Health has confirmed to FactCheck that the government’s target is that by the end of December, every adult who wants one will have been able to receive a booster vaccination.
We’ll have to wait and see whether the government delivers on that pledge.