Over-80s invited to mass vaccination centres long distances from their homes have been advised that they can wait for a local appointment in the future if they prefer.
Some elderly people are said to be “panicking” after they received letters inviting them to sites over 30 miles away, to which they could not travel.
This week the NHS sent more than 630,000 of the letters to people aged 80 or over who live 30 to 45 minutes’ drive from one of seven new sites – explaining that they can book a slot over the phone or online.
However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Those who receive the letter do not have to take one of those appointments if it is too far to travel and can wait for a local appointment if they would prefer.”
NHS England has advised that over-80s can ignore the letter if they would prefer to wait to be invited to attend a hospital or GP service for their vaccine.
It said there are currently almost 800 GP-led vaccination services, and these are expected to deliver the majority of the jabs.
“The seven centres are an additional option for people to get vaccinated if it is convenient for them,” an NHS spokesperson said.
“If it is not, they can instead be jabbed at one of their local vaccination centres in the coming weeks.”
With more vaccination centres planned to open over the coming weeks, the average distance needed to travel for a vaccine is expected to decrease.
Georgia Harrison said her 84-year-old grandmother Jean, from Staffordshire, received a letter and was panicking after discovering the closest centre to her is in Birmingham, more than 30 miles away.
“She doesn’t drive so won’t be able to get there … she’s panicking now that she can’t get a vaccination when she wants one,” Ms Harrison, a 28-year-old school worker, told the PA news agency.
“She will have to wait now for a closer appointment at her local GP surgery or one of the more local places, and god knows how long that will take.”
The PA news agency found a number of other families and elderly people with similar complaints on social media.
Discussing GPs, hospitals, vaccination centres and pharmacies, Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously said: “If all goes well, these together should have the capacity to deliver hundreds of thousands of vaccines per day by January 15, and it is our plan that everyone should have a vaccination available within a radius of 10 miles.”
On Monday, his spokesman was pressed on whether the 10-mile target is to be achieved by February after it was suggested some people have been told to travel 20 miles.
“The PM was clear that as we ramp up that is what we will aim to ensure but we’re opening the first seven mass vaccination centres this week, with more expected to be up and running by the end of the month, and the Prime Minister has been clear that’s our desire to try and ensure people don’t have to travel too far for a vaccine,” the spokesman said.