The NHS will need to exceed 840,000 booster jabs per day in a bid to fight Omicron, which is causing around 200,000 new infections per day, the Health Secretary has said.
Sajid Javid told MPs that every adult across England could expect to be offered a “chance to get boosted by the end of this month” though he suggested not everyone would get a dose in December.
He said: “It is asking a huge amount of our colleagues in the NHS.
“And it’s our joint view that we can try to offer adults a chance to get boosted by the end of this month.
“And that does not mean every single person necessarily can get that booster, it requires them to come forward and to take up this offer as well, as well as everything going right in this huge expansion plan.”
It follows confusion over whether the Government has promised that people can all have a jab in their arm by the December 31 deadline, or whether they will just have an offer of a future vaccine.
It comes as the UK recorded its first death involving Omicron, and 10 people are in hospital with the variant.
Most of these 10 have received two vaccines and range in age from 18 to 85, though there are no details on whether they have underlying conditions.
Mr Javid told the Commons: “Until now the highest number of jabs that we’ve delivered in a single day in the UK was over 840,000.
“We’ll not only need to match that but we will need to beat that every day. But we can and we’ve got a plan to try and do it.
“We’re opening more vaccination sites including pop-up and mobile sites that’ll be working seven days a week.
“We are training thousands more volunteer vaccinators, we’re asking GPs and pharmacies to do more and we’re drafting in 42 military planning teams across every region of our country.”
Mr Javid said he acknowledge that “our national mission comes with some difficult trade-offs”, meaning some non-urgent appointments and surgery in the NHS may be cancelled.
He added: “These are steps that no Health Secretary would wish to take unless they were absolutely necessary, but I am convinced that if we don’t prioritise the booster now the health consequences will be far more grave in the months that lie ahead.”
Mr Javid told MPs there are now 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK, adding that the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the current number of “daily infections are around 200,000”.
He added: “While Omicron represents over 20% of cases in England, we’ve already seen it rise to over 44% in London and we expect it to become the dominant Covid 19 variant in the capital in the next 48 hours.”
Overall, there were a further 54,661 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK as of Monday morning, the Government said.
Mr Javid also urged people to have boosters as a way of protecting children.
Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, asked Mr Javid to “make sure schools are kept open in January”.
Mr Javid said: “One of the reasons to take the measures we’ve said, especially around expanding the booster programme, is to make sure we can prioritise our children.”
Downing Street has indicated schools will be kept open unless there is an “absolute public health emergency” and warned local authorities against deciding to close early for Christmas as a precautionary measure.
“There are certainly no plans to put in any restriction on schooling, we know how vital education has been and how detrimental the pandemic has been towards children and young people who, in many cases, have borne the brunt of this,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
Earlier, Boris Johnson announced the first UK death with Omicron during a visit to a vaccination clinic near Paddington in west London.
The Prime Minister said: “Sadly, yes, Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.
“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population. So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters.”
Mr Johnson repeatedly declined to rule out further coronavirus restrictions ahead of Christmas but stressed the urgency of people getting boosters.
“Throughout the pandemic I’ve been at great pains to stress to the public that we have to watch where the pandemic is going and we take whatever steps are necessary to protect public health,” he added.
In England a booster is available to everyone aged 18 or over from this week as long as the second dose was at least three months ago.
Over-30s can already book a booster online and, from Wednesday, this will be extended to over-18s.
Mr Johnson said MPs thinking of rebelling against Plan B measures needed to recognise there was “no room for complacency” in dealing with Omicron.
Asked about support among his backbenchers ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the Prime Minister told broadcasters: “I think that what everybody needs to recognise is a couple of things, that Omicron is a very serious risk to public health, and that it’s spreading very fast, and I think there’s no room for complacency.
“But we have the vaccines, our position remains incomparably better than it was last year.
“And I hope that people will also understand, colleagues in Westminster, around the country, will also see that the measures we’re putting in place are balanced and proportionate.”
Responding to the fact the Government website said on Monday “there are no more home tests available” when people tried to order lateral flow kits, the Prime Minister said there was a “ready supply” of tests.
The UK Health Security Agency said earlier that “due to exceptionally high demand, ordering lateral flow tests on gov.uk has been temporarily suspended to fulfil existing orders”.
It added: “Everyone who needs a lateral flow test can collect test kits, either at their local pharmacy, some community sites and some schools and colleges.”
But Labour shadow health minister Wes Streeting described Covid testing as a “shambles”.
He told MPs that pharmacies across the country are out of stock, “and even here in Parliament there are no home-testing kits available from Portcullis House”.
He said an increase in demand should have been foreseen and said: “This is a serious problem.”
Professor Salim Karim said early data from South Africa looks good.
The former chair of the South African ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 told BBC News: “In the past three waves, about two out of every three patients admitted were cases of severe disease, and right now we have only one out of four cases that is severe – a marked difference.
“So it looks like, at this stage, you know early data and one doesn’t want to over-interpret it, but the signs are certainly looking good.”
However, it is important to note that South Africa has a younger population than the UK so direct comparisons can be tricky.