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Can you really save Christmas by getting a Covid booster jab?

Whether the UK goes back into lockdown this winter depends on a lot more than how many people get their vaccines.

By Stephen Bush

Get your coronavirus booster to save Christmas – that was the implicit message of Sajid Javid’s press conference last night.

Fair enough, but as Chris Smyth explains in further detail in a superb write-up in the Times, the over-80s and the extremely clinical vulnerable (the only two groups who have been double-jabbed long enough to get a booster) are taking them up at a faster rate that they did the first round of vaccines (which was already pretty fast). 

The good news is that the vaccines are continuing to severely reduce the number of coronavirus cases that become hospitalisations and deaths. Epidemiologists say the numbers of hospitalisations and deaths remain lower than even the most optimistic projections.

But there’s an important known unknown: what the flu season will do to NHS capacity. Some scientists believe a year of limited exposure to viruses could lead to a surge now society is open again – which is perhaps the reason so many of us have this infernal lingering cold. A year in which we didn’t pick up our friends’ germy toddlers, when we were free from that one colleague who doesn’t believe in sick days and infects the rest of the office, and when many other causes of minor illnesses were suppressed by lockdown could mean that minor bugs now have a greater effect.

The NHS experiences crisis conditions essentially every winter anyway. It is unclear whether flu season this year will have an even more pronounced effect than usual because of these factors.

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So, yes, get your booster as soon as you can: but the reality is that if we have another lockdown, it will have a lot more to do with the long-term weaknesses of the NHS and the lack of investment in ventilation than with feckless octagenarians failing to get jabbed.

[See also: How life without germs has left us newly vulnerable]

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