The NHS is texting millions of vulnerable people urging them to get a life-saving COVID jab as the vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history, continues to accelerate.
The messages are part of a renewed drive to protect those with underlying conditions such as diabetes and some forms of cancer.
GPs have already been inviting those with the conditions from their patient lists.
Now the NHS is texting them with a link that enables them to arrange a jab at a vaccination centre or pharmacy-led service at the touch of a button.
NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “We’re sending out around two million NHS text invitations over the weekend as more vaccine supplies come online next week. Bookings are booming, with a record number of NHS COVID jabs arranged through our national service last weekend when over one million appointments were made.”
Last weekend more than 1.3 million appointments were arranged through the national booking service as people aged 55 and over were invited to get a jab.
The vast majority booked online, while a smaller number booked by calling 119 which offers additional support when booking their jab.
More than 19 million people across England have now received a life-saving COVID vaccination.
Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s primary care director and a GP, said: “It is a testament to the hard work of tens of thousands of NHS staff, volunteers and many more that we have now vaccinated 19 million people in just over three months.
“Seeing the hope the vaccine brings to staff and patients has been a real career highlight and it is great to see that confidence in the biggest vaccination drive in NHS history continues with record numbers taking up their offer last weekend.
“More than a million appointments were booked for a lifesaving vaccination and now the NHS is redoubling its efforts to vaccinate people at increased risk to ensure nobody is left behind. It is never too late to take up the offer and I would urge anyone eligible who has yet to do so to come forward and protect yourself and others.”
Jane Lyons, CEO of Cancer52 which works to support people with rare and less common cancers: “We can’t say it often enough – if you or someone you love has a cancer that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and they are called for the vaccine then the best thing you can do now is to have the COVID jab or help them have theirs. It may save your life, or that of your loved one. Watch out for texts from NHSvaccine that are being sent to vulnerable people. And then please act on it.”
Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness: “Rethink Mental Illness strongly encourages anyone who is invited by text, letter or phone to book an appointment for a vaccination. Unfortunately, people severely affected by mental illness are more likely to become seriously unwell with COVID-19. The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the virus, significantly reduce that risk and help keep others safe. If you have any concerns, you will be able to talk to a health professional before your vaccination who can provide further information and support.”
Texts include a web link for those eligible to click and reserve an appointment at one of more than 300 large-scale vaccination centres or pharmacies across England.
Messages will be sent using the Government’s secure Notify service and will show as being sent from ‘NHSvaccine’.
If people cannot or would prefer not to travel to a Vaccination Centre or pharmacy-led site, they can choose to wait to be invited by a local GP-led service.
Almost 400,000 people aged 55 and 40,000 unpaid carers were among the first to be invited to book by text this week, in a bid to make it quicker and more convenient to get an appointment.
NHS staff visited over 10,000 care homes and also those who are housebound and cannot travel to a vaccination service.
Vaccinations are now being administered at more than 1,600 sites across the country, including mosques, museums and rugby grounds, with the distribution of centres meaning 99% of the country lives within 10 miles of at least one vaccination service.
The NHS made history when Maggie Keenan became the first person in the world to be protected against coronavirus outside of a clinical trial when she received the Pfizer vaccine at Coventry Hospital on December 8.
The NHS was also the first health system to deliver the new Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine when Brian Pinker, 82, was vaccinated on January 4.
Ian Green, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘We hope these text messages will encourage even more people living with HIV to book in for their first dose of COVID vaccine with a few clicks on their phone. It’s also important to say that anyone living with HIV who hasn’t shared their HIV status with their GP for whatever reason – and therefore won’t receive a text link – can organise an appointment by contacting their HIV clinic. Whatever the way, we strongly encourage anyone living with HIV to get vaccinated in the next week or so for peace of mind and protection against COVID-19.’
Henny Braund, chief executive at Anthony Nolan which works with those with leukaemia and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation: “We strongly encourage everybody with an underlying health condition to take up the vaccine. Patients with blood cancer and disorders are clinically more vulnerable, meaning they are most at risk from serious illness. The more people who are vaccinated in communities across the UK, the better it is for blood cancer patients who will benefit. Anyone who is worried about the vaccine should contact their healthcare team.”
Dr Julia Patterson, chief executive of EveryDoctor: “The vaccine roll-out so far has been a phenomenal success, and an indicator of the strength of our NHS and the dedication of NHS staff. Vaccines are one of the cornerstones enabling a safe exit from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we need to encourage everyone to accept their vaccine when invited”.
Louise Cousins, director of external affairs at Epilepsy Action: “COVID-19 has impacted all of us in one way or another. A recent study has shown people with epilepsy could have a slightly increased risk of being admitted to hospital or dying from coronavirus. This is why it’s so important that people with epilepsy consider taking the vaccine when it is offered to them. Vaccines approved for use in the UK must meet strict safety standards set by the medicines regulator. The Association of British Neurologists has advised that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people with neurological conditions, including epilepsy.”
Vanessa Hebditch, director of communications at the British Liver Trust: “In a recent British Liver Trust patient survey, one in five liver disease patients stated that they were concerned about getting the vaccination and the nurses on our Helpline have been inundated with worried people who have received misinformation from unverified online sites. The Trust has liaised with medical experts on behalf of liver disease patients and we would urge everyone with liver disease to get the vaccination. Our advice is please don’t listen to fake news, listen to the NHS. If you are at all worried speak to your clinician.”
Laura Cockram, head of policy and campaigns at Parkinson’s UK, said: “Parkinson’s is identified as one of the conditions that is in the clinically vulnerable group we would encourage every adult with Parkinson’s and their carers to get their coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine when they are invited to do so. The drive by the NHS to ensure as many people as possible receive their vaccine is very much welcomed.”
Marjorie Wallace CBE, founder and chief executive of SANE, which works to improve quality of life for people affected by mental illness: “We congratulate the NHS for recognising the importance of protecting people with severe mental illness, who have been shown to be at a substantially higher risk from COVID-19. We urge all who have been given this remarkable chance to take advantage and get their vaccine to avoid unnecessary suffering.”
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mental Health Charity Mind says: “People with serious mental health problems often have significant physical health issues, which can at times be overlooked and also put people at more risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. So it’s really important people are able to access the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible. This text service is an important part of a support package to make sure those who need it can access the vaccine – this needs to be delivered alongside support from GPs and additional one to one support for anyone concerned about leaving their homes, or who may need someone to attend an appointment with them.
“For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine for people with mental health problems visit www.mind.org.uk.”
The Doctors’ Association UK welcomes the drive to ensure as many people as possible amongst cohort 6 take up the COVID-19 vaccination.
Dr Ellen Welch is a GP with the DAUK and says: “I have an appointment for my second vaccination today, which as a pregnant healthcare worker was important for me to have to feel protected. I would encourage everyone, especially those at increased risk, to make the most of this opportunity. To be able to return to a sense of normality, it is essential we vaccinate as many of the population possible.”
DAUK’s Dr David Nicholl says: “We already know that the vaccine is safe, we now know that it also brings protection to our nearest and dearest. This is especially important for the clinically vulnerable in the cohort 6 group. As such the Doctors’ Association UK would encourage anyone who gets called, to get vaccinated, to get themselves and those they love protected as quickly as possible”
John James OBE, Chief Executive, Sickle Cell Society said: “People living with sickle cell disorder were amongst those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable and asked to shield during this Covid19 pandemic. We urge anyone with sickle cell disorder who has not yet taken the approved vaccines to do so and help protect against serious illness from Covid19”.