Millions more Britons became eligible for Covid vaccines today as the booster drive started accepting bookings for people in their forties.
An extra 8million people aged 40 to 49 who are double-vaccinated can secure an appointment for their third jab for six months after their second dose.
They can do so via the NHS booking service website, or by calling 119. Data shows the third dose tops-up protection against symptomatic Covid to above 90 per cent.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said vaccination was the best way for the UK to avoid being hit by a wave of infections rolling across Europe.
He yesterday hinted Britons of all ages could be offered a booster in the coming months.
Teens aged 16 and 17 – who previously were only eligible for one dose – can also now book their second Covid vaccine.
Older teens will be given the second vaccine 12 weeks following their first jab because evidence suggests the longer gap reduces the risk of side effects.
Officials had delayed a decision on second doses while they investigated reports of heart inflammation in young people.
So far, more than half of 16 and 17-year-olds have come forward for a first dose of the jab.
It comes as countries across Europe are being forced to reimpose draconian lockdowns and other social restrictions in response to a fresh wave of the Delta variant.
Britain is thought to be benefitting from the fact it released all curbs much earlier than the rest of the continent over summer, which frontloaded infections.
Millions more Britons became eligible for Covid vaccines today as the booster programme started accepting bookings for people in their forties (file)
Mr Javid said: ‘Getting your Covid booster vaccine is the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this winter and will help reduce the pressure on the NHS.
‘While the government is continuing to monitor a wide range of data to ensure the country remains protected, we have very sadly seen a surge in cases in parts of Europe.
UK Covid cases rise slightly while infections sweep Europe: Positive tests up 9.5% to 40,004 as deaths drop by two to 61 over last week
Britain’s Covid infections have increased by almost 10 per cent as Sajid Javid urged people to get their booster jabs to ensure the nation can ‘look forward to Christmas together’.
Department of Health bosses reported a further 40,004 cases on Sunday, a rise from the 36,517 reported one week earlier.
The number of people dying with the virus saw a 3 per cent drop, with 61 deaths reported yesterday compared to 63 on November 14, bringing the UK total to 143,927.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 168,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.
It comes as Europe descended into a third day of violent carnage as tens of thousands of people in Belgium took to the streets to protest against the return of strict lockdown rules aimed at curbing a surge in Covid infections across the continent.
‘The most important thing we can do to stop a similar rise in this country is get the jab – so please get your vaccines as soon as you can so we can keep the virus at bay.’
Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup added: ‘We must protect the gains we have made through our vaccination programme this winter, and I urge everybody to help make this happen
‘Please get your boosters when eligible, and get your first and second doses if you haven’t already, to secure vital protection during the winter to keep you and your loved ones safe.’
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) last week approved the booster vaccines to Britons in their forties.
It said people could come forward for them ‘with the confidence that they are safe and effective’.
People in the age group become eligible for a Pfizer or Moderna jab – regardless of which injection they received for their first two injections – six months after their second dose, but can book their appointment from five months after their second jab.
Some 1.5million adults in their 40s in England were double-jabbed by mid-May and are now eligible for their third dose.
And half of people in their 40s in the country (3.5million) had both doses by June 24, so could have their top-up dose by Christmas.
The decision followed findings that Covid booster jabs gave more than 90 per cent protection against symptomatic infection among over-50s.
The UK Health Security Agency — which took over the reigns from the now defunct Public Health England — found that two weeks after getting the top up protection was 93.1 per cent for AstraZeneca recipients, and 94 per cent for those who got the Pfizer shot.
There has not been enough time to measure the effect on hospitalisations and deaths but officials claimed protection is expected to be ‘even higher’.
After two doses of either vaccine, effectiveness against symptomatic disease appears to wane over time.
The JCVI said there is no evidence protection against hospitalisation and death from Covid drops over time among vaccinated people aged under 40, but it will continue to monitor data.
Meanwhile, the JCVI also announced last week that all 16 and 17-year-olds should be offered a second Covid jab 12 weeks after their first dose.
Nearly 800,000 of the 1.2million 16 and 17-year-olds in England had received their first dose of the vaccine by November 14.
The advisers said the second injection increases the level and duration of the teens’ protection against the virus, while possibly reducing the risk of onward transmission and hospitalisation among vulnerable contacts.
The JCVI initially held off on recommending second doses for children because data from Israel and the US suggested the myocarditis risk is as high as one in 10,000.
But real-world UK data in slightly older adults – who also saw above normal rates of myocarditis in other countries – was not higher after the second jab.
This is thought to be because the dosing gap between doses here is 12 weeks, whereas it’s between three and four weeks in the US and Israel.
Latest data shows that for every million doses administered to children in the UK, nine myocarditis cases are expected, while 150 hospitalisations will be prevented.
Britain was seen as the ‘sick man of Europe’ in the summer after its Covid infection rate outpaced other nations. But as the continent heads into winter many other European nations have seen their case rates storm ahead . The UK is testing up to 10 times more than its EU neighbours, which inflates its infection rate
It comes as Europe is currently battling a fresh wave of the Delta variant that has sent nations scuttling back into draconian shutdowns once more, raising fears that the UK could be next.
But Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that the UK was in a different position to its continental neighbours because it frontloaded infections earlier in the year.
Heading into Autumn Britain’s case load (458.5 cases per million people) was twice that of Austria’s, four times the rate in the Netherlands and Germany, and eight times that in Spain.
And its hospitalisations and deaths also steamed ahead with three times more daily admissions than Germany, and four times the number recorded in the Netherlands.
But Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland now all have a higher infection rate than the UK, with Germany expected to overtake the country in the coming days.
Austria today imposed a lockdown because of low vaccine uptake, with some German states expected to follow suit in the coming days.