Community pharmacy-led vaccination sites should make ‘every effort’ to ensure any additional capacity for first and second doses is uploaded to the National Booking System (NBS), NHS England has said.

It comes after the Government announced that second dose appointments will be brought forward from 12 to eight weeks for remaining people in the top nine priority groups.

A letter, sent to vaccination sites last week (15 May), said that the NHS will contact all individuals within cohorts one to nine who already have appointments made via the NBS on or after 25 May – where this is more than eight weeks after their first dose – to encourage them to rebook an earlier appointment.

The Government made the decision in a bid to tackle rising cases of the Indian (B1.617.2) variant in parts of the country, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

This is to ‘ensure people across the UK have the strongest possible protection from the virus at an earlier opportunity’.

Those aged under 50 will continue to get their first dose, with their second dose at 12 weeks, the NHS England letter said.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 Chair for JCVI, said: ‘Due to the rapid rise in cases of the B1.617.2 Variant of Concern and notable transmission in parts of the country, the JCVI advises that every effort is made to promote vaccine uptake in those who remain unvaccinated in priority cohorts 1 to 9 – these people remain at highest risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19.’

The Government said last week that it may send additional doses of the Covid vaccine to areas where variants of concerns are spreading, including to bring forward second doses. But Blackburn health chiefs said they were stopped by the Government from widening eligibility to everyone over 18.

The Government has since announced that it will work to accelerate vaccine uptake among eligible cohorts in the badly-affected areas of Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.

This includes extra vaccine deliveries to Bolton and extended opening of vaccination facilities in Blackburn. In Bolton, a roving team of vaccinators will also visit local businesses to target people who may not be able to get time off work.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘It’s vital we do everything we can and use every resource we have to ensure we continue to keep the nation safe. We have implemented measures at record pace to get on top of this new variant and control the spread.’

The NHS administered a total of 56.7 million vaccines between 8 December and 15 May, including 36.6 million people with their first dose (69.4%) and 20.1 million with their second (38.2%), the Government said yesterday.

A version of this story first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse.