A Scots scientist has backed calls for Covid boosters to be extended to the general population to protect health and ease pressure on the NHS.
Professor Neil Mabbott, personal chair of immunopathology at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, said it “made sense” to extend the vaccination programme as “we get further into the most at risk groups” because Covid could still cause serious illness in the healthy.
He said research had shown 8 out of 10 people would take a vaccine if they were offered it.
Professor Devi Sridher, who was one of Nicola Sturgeon’s most senior advisors during the pandemic, has also previously called for boosters to be offered to the wider population.
The Scottish Government has said it is being guided by the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) which currently does not advocate for a general roll-out.
It comes as figures suggest uptake of Covid and flu boosters has stalled among the priority groups.
The latest data show 33% (44,136) of social care workers have been vaccinated, 45% of those aged 50-64, 51% who are clinically vulnerable and 50% of frontline health workers.
Flu vaccines have been delivered to 38.4% of those 50-64 and 48% of health workers.
At one vaccination centre in Glasgow 500 people are said to have turned up for 1053 booked appointments.
“It comes back to that thing of making vaccines accessible,” said Prof Mabbot.
“One or two people I’ve spoken to have said they have experienced difficulty booking appointments.
“There are maybe some aspects [of the vaccination process]that can be improved.
He added: “We could open it up to the rest of the population.
“Up until now, it’s been the strong driver to give the vaccines to those at most need and that makes sense at the earliest stages but I think, once we get significantly into those groupings I think it does make sense to start to offer it up to those in the younger age groups.”
He described the uptake as “disappointing” but said some of the lower rates followed trends from early on in the pandemic when vaccines were first made available.
“Hopefully this is being looked into because we need to make sure as many people as possible are vaccinated,” he said.
“There seems to be a few principles behind it.
“One of them is confidence – a lot of people don’t think the vaccines are that effective or have some issues with distrust in scientists.
“There’s a bit of complacency now. We are approaching three years into this and for many young people they don’t consider themselves at risk – and that might be misguided.
“Of course there is still the looming issue of Long Covid. There can be quite a large proportion of people affected even after a very mild illness.”
The latest figures, up to November 20, show that on average there were 606 patients in hospital with Covid-19, an 7.8% decrease from the previous week.
There were 8 new admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) with a laboratory-confirmed test of COVID-19, an increase of 1 from the previous week (13 November 2022)
Of the 1,653,929 people vaccinated against Covid, 91.7% were vaccinated for Flu at the same vaccination appointment.
Prof Mabbott said vaccination rates were “not disastrous” but said there were were pockets of the population that “we still need to address and engage with”.
He said: “There were certain ethnic groups where there was vaccine hesitancy: Black/Caribbean being a strong driver there.
“Living in a deprived area was also associated with high incidence of vaccine hesitancy.
“There has been a lot of misinformation and it is important not to dismiss that.
“We can expect flu cases and Covid to re-surge as we enter the winter.
“One of the biggest impacts of Covid and flu potentially is on the health service. It’s still having a big impact.
“Getting on top of all these backlogs and delays…one way we can do that is ensuring as many people as possible are vaccinated.”
Scottish Care, which represents the independent social care sector, say there was a “missed opportunity” to vaccinate care home staff alongside residents which had contributed to lower uptake rates.
Chief Executive, Donald Macaskill said: “Regretfully in the initial stages of the roll-out, despite clear advice based on the previous year’s high uptake levels, several health boards in their roll-out for care homes did not offer to vaccinate staff at the same time as residents, thereby expecting staff to go to another place to receive the vaccine.
“Scottish Care regrets that this was a lost opportunity to build on very clear practice that for overworked care and health staff, a successful vaccination programme is based on taking the vaccine to the worker, not the other way around.
“We are working with boards to ensure that where possible this policy is reversed.”
He added: “We are very aware that there is an urgent need to undertake a national awareness campaign for all who work in health in social care to ensure a greater uptake of the vaccines and will seek to work with partners to continue to convince everyone of the benefits of being vaccinated.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said:“Uptake of booster jabs being offered as part of the winter vaccination programme is encouraging with 1,653,929 administered so far.
“Those aged 50-64 with no underlying health conditions did not receive scheduled appointments.
“Instead they received a letter inviting them to book an appointment convenient for them on the NHS Inform website.
“Appointments for this group became available from 24 October and almost 45% have already had their booster.
“We recognise the important role social care staff play and want to ensure they benefit from the protection offered by vaccination.
“Health Boards are now offering drop-ins for Health and Social Care staff to allow them to get vaccinated at a time and location which suits them.”