The month in COVID on nhs.uk: November 2021
This is the third of what I can now confidently say is a monthly series of blog posts outlining what’s happening on nhs.uk in response to COVID-19. I’m the product manager on the NHS website’s COVID Team. We look after the website’s COVID hub. We provide users with the information they need and we signpost them to COVID-19 services when they need them.
This month we have mostly been working on vaccinations.
(I started this blog post in early December but that month was so busy I didn’t find time to finish it until January.)
The month in numbers
Each week in November, there were between 15 and 20 million visits to the COVID hub. The most frequently viewed pages were booking a vaccination appointment, information about the booster vaccine, finding a walk-in vaccination site, information about vaccinations and getting a COVID Pass.
Overall, there were 38.7 million journeys into 1 of the 18 services that users of the COVID hub are signposted to. Three times as many as there were in October.
The news about the Omicron variant at the end of November, and the JCVI’s response to this, defined the month for me. It also forced us to shift our plans towards a new set of priorities.
JCVI recommended 4 new measures to extend vaccination:
- Boosters for everyone aged 18+ (it was previously 40+)
- Boosters 3 months after 2nd doses (it was previously 6 months)
- Boosters for severely immunosuppressed people 3 months after their 3rd doses
- 2nd doses for children aged 12–15
Unfortunately, many people thought these measures came into effect the moment they were announced. But these are quite major changes — they require capacity to be stood up (vaccines, vaccination sites, appointment slots, staff, etc) as well as updates to the systems that invite people for vaccinations, book their appointments and record their vaccinations.
Many, many, many people came to the NHS website after the JCVI announcement expecting these changes to all be in place but, as I’ll show in next month’s blog post, they were rolled out over a period of weeks. We had to take the unprecedented of adding a huge warning callout to the top of the ‘Book a coronavirus vaccination’ and ‘Find a walk-in vaccination site’ service start pages.
Face coverings and self-isolation advice
The emergence of Omicron also led to new measures to reduce the spread of COVID. We strengthened our existing content around wearing masks in public, and our colleagues in Test & Trace updated pages on self-isolation.
Even before the emergence of Omicron, we’d already iterated our vaccinations content many times:
- We added a video (produced by my colleagues) to the page about vaccinations for children aged 12–15.
- We updated our information for people with severely weakened immune systems once they were able to get a 3rd doses (which is different to a standard booster dose) via the ‘Book a coronavirus vaccination’ and ‘Find a walk-in vaccination site’ services.
- We celebrated once people aged 16–17 were able to get a 2nd dose because it meant we could remove all references to the awkward 17 years and 9 months age limit. This had previously been in place because people who were 3 months from turning 18 had been able to get a 2nd dose.
- ‘Book a coronavirus vaccination’ introduced advance booking for booster doses so that people eligible for this dose could book appointments up to 1 month before the date they were able to get it. At the time this meant you could book an appointment 5 months after your 2nd dose and the appointment would be 6 months after your 2nd dose.
- Initially, only people aged 50+ could take advantage of advance booking but this was extended to frontline health and care workers soon afterwards.
- Eligibility for boosters was extended to all people aged 40+.
- And finally, following a minor change to COVID-19: the green book, chapter 14a we updated information so that children and young people who are not in high-risk groups and who test positive for COVID should wait 12 weeks before receiving a vaccination. The equivalent period for adults and children and young people who are in high-risk groups is 4 weeks.
People at higher risk from COVID
Elsewhere in COVID, we finally closed the Get and Check a Shielding Note services following the end of the national shielding programme in England.
What we’re doing next month
I can’t share everything that we’re currently working on because some of it is sensitive, but here’s what I can tell you:
- More Omicron responses, including changes to vaccine eligibility.
- Publishing new information about COVID treatments and how to access them.
- And we’ll no doubt be updating content as the clinical advice and health policy for COVID-19 changes.