Civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm has asked departmental staff to volunteer their time to help the UK hit prime minister Boris Johnson’s new target of administering coronavirus booster jabs to all over-18s by the new year.
Up to 120,000 civil servants could be drafted in to assist the NHS with the national booster vaccine roll-out, which has been escalated to deal with a surge in new Covid cases following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Whitehall officials told civil servants this morning that they want to see volunteers “really step up” and help with the government’s campaign to offer boosters to all adults aged 18 and over by January.
The NHS has told the Cabinet Office that it believes 120,000 volunteers – roughly one-quarter of the entire civil service headcount – will be required for support. The government has also committed an additional 750 armed forces personnel to help with the effort, announced by the PM on Sunday night.
This afternoon, civil service COO Chisholm emailed Whitehall staff asking them to “put themselves forward to help out at their local community vaccine centres”.
He made reference to the ability of departmental and agency officials to take five days of leave every year to engage in volunteering activities.
Chisolm wrote in his email: “We understand that giving up five days may be a challenge, however if people could even do one day, every little helps.”
Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay added: “We are turbocharging our efforts against Omicron, with an urgent national appeal calling for people to be jabbed.
“We have a target to offer boosters to all eligible adults by the end of the month – and civil servants can play an important role in this.
“I urge as many of you as possible to support this effort.”
In a statement broadcast to the nation on Sunday evening, the prime minister warned that “we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe”.
However, government analysis has shown that in order to hit the pace of boosters needed to fully vaccinate the population by the new year, the NHS will need to match its best vaccination day yet and then beat it day after day.
The highest level of vaccinations so far recorded in one day was 844,285 back in March. Daily counts of 1 million or more will be required to hit the latest target.
Johnson confirmed yesterday that 42 military planning teams will be deployed across the UK to assist with booster efforts.
Alongside this, to curb the spread Omicron from today "Plan B" Covid measures have come into force, with more expected Wednesday subject to a House of Commons vote.
People are being encouraged to work from home where possible and face masks are now compulsory on public transport and in public indoor spaces.
On Wednesday, subject to a vote in parliament, a negative lateral flow test or vaccine certification will be required at large events and nightclubs.
The prime minister acknowledged that the new booster jab drive would “mean some other appointments will need to be postponed until the new year”.
Johnson said: "If we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions… would be even greater next year.”
At least one patient in the UK has now died after testing positive for the Omicron variant.
Noa Hoffman is a reporter on Civil Service World’s sister title Politics Home, where a version of this story first appeared