Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said people should set aside the notion that Omicron causes mild illness and get a booster Covid vaccine.
For a politician who is notorious for his cavalier approach, the Conservative leader is clearly rattled by the potential destruction that could be wreaked by Omicron.
Indeed, just over a fortnight after the first cases of the variant were identified in England, Mr Johnson has revealed Omicron has claimed its first victim.
So, with the news that the booster dose is required to offer people optimal protection, the race is on to get the booster jab in as many arms as possible before the end of the year.
PROGRESS SO FAR
According to the Department of Health’s vaccination dashboard, there are 1,436,402 people aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland.
To date, 523,260 booster doses have been administered to people over 18 — a considerable achievement given the boosters received approval from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in the middle of September.
As with the first dose of the vaccine, care home residents were prioritised in the booster programme, before it moved down through the age groups.
WHO IS LEFT TO GET A BOOSTER?
As of Sunday night, the booster programme has been opened up to anyone aged 30 or over who is at least three months from their second dose.
That means, of the 1,178,872 people who are currently eligible for a booster, less than half have had the top up dose so far.
A closer look at the figures shows those yet to receive a booster dose include a considerable proportion of people aged 60 and over, among the most vulnerable to the virus.
Of the 428,969 people in the cohort, 127,453 have not yet had a booster. Looking at people aged 80 and over, 76% of the group have had a booster dose, while three-quarters of the 70 to 79-year-old cohort have had a booster. Moving down the age ranges and the coverage decreases to just 7% in the 18 to 29-year-olds and 11% in the 30 to 39-year-old cohort.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
We know older people are more vulnerable to Covid-19, so it’s absolutely essential that the booster programme targets those groups first. With 127,453 people aged 60 and over still to get a booster dose, that means vaccination staff will have to administer more than 7,000 doses every day — including Christmas Day — if they want maximum coverage achieved by the end of the year.
To get everyone aged 30 and over a booster dose before the end of December will mean an average of 37,000 people attending appointments every day.
Of course, not everyone in the 30 and over cohort will be eligible for a booster dose by the end of the month — there are some who still haven’t even had a first dose let alone waited the three months after their second dose before coming forward for a booster.
But it gives you an idea of the mammoth task ahead before the over 18s are added to the eligible cohort.
HOW WILL THE BOOSTER PROGRAMME BE ACCELERATED?
Every available resource is being thrown at speeding up the rollout of the programme. in Northern Ireland
Trust staff are being re-diverted from normal duties, GPs and their staff will spend more of their time running vaccination clinics, and it may even mean some outpatient appointments are cancelled.
This is likely to further exacerbate the waiting list crisis, but the immediate priority is to sustain the health service through the coming months to try and delay and reduce the size of the impending Omicron wave. While the SSE Arena was used as a mass vaccination centre at the start of the programme, it has since returned to its day job and with a series of events lined up for the venue in the coming weeks and months, it is unlikely it will see a return of vaccinators and patients anytime soon.
There was no word last night from the Department of Health on whether they are looking at using other similar large-scale venues to meet the vaccination target.