The NHS in England has begun the process of inviting people over the age of 45 to book appointments for a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The expansion of eligibility comes after Boris Johnson hailed passing a “significant milestone” in the battle against the virus after the health service hit the target of offering all adults over 50 a first vaccine dose ahead of schedule.

Signalling the start of “Phase 2” of the government’s vaccination programme — involving offering vaccines to healthy adults under 50 — the NHS website says that those over 45 can now use the vaccine booking facility.

However, after the update, the website appeared to crash on Tuesday morning, with a message telling users: “The NHS website is currently experiencing technical difficulties. We are working to resolve these issues.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to set out its final advice for the completion of the programme, and the Department of Health said last night it anticipated the second phase would begin this week.

Those booking appointments need to have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and the NHS asks individuals to book both appointments at the same time, with the second occurring 11 to 12 weeks after the first dose.

People are able to manage bookings via the NHS website and those who have tested positive for the virus are instructed to wait four weeks from the date they had the test before booking an appointment with the health service.

According to the latest figures available, over 32 million people in the UK have now received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine while over 7.6 million have received both jabs since the rollout started in December 2020.

Marking the “milestone” of reaching priority groups, the prime minister said in a statement:“We will now move forward with completing essential second doses and making progress towards out target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July”

Officials also confirmed that NHS patients in England would receive the Moderna vaccine from Tuesday, which professor Stephen Powis, the NHS medical director, said marked “another milestone” in the vaccination programme.

“We now have a third jab in our armoury and NHS staff will be using it at more than 20 sites from this week, with more coming online as supplies expand,” he said.

“England’s vaccination programme is our hope at the end of a year like no other, so please do come forward and get your jab when you’re invited.

“It is safe, quick and effective – it will protect you and your loved ones.”

Around 17 million doses of the vaccine — the third now available in the country — were secured by the government’s Vaccines Taskforce and jabs have already been rolled out in Wales and Scotland, with deliveries expected in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks.

Despite the pace of the rollout, Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, warned that people should not assume the country is on a “one-way, inexorable, inevitable track to it all being fantastic”.

“I know I might sound a bit like a prophet of doom the day after we’ve started enabling people to go back to the pub garden, but the reality is there are … really good reasons why we need to be cautious here,” he told Sky News.

“We need to be really careful about assuming we’re on a one-way, inexorable, inevitable track to it all being fantastic and we can go back to normal, because actually we’ll need a new normal. We need everyone to put their own personal pedal to the metal and ensure they follow the rules.”

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