Rishi Sunak has warned Department of Health officials over the multibillion-pound cost of booster rollouts, it has emerged.
According to the Guardian, the chancellor has repeatedly raised the point that a three-month booster regime – more frequent than originally expected – could impact the government’s future spending plans.
A Whitehall source told the paper that Sunak had not opposed the booster rollout, but warned prices were likely to rise as a result – suggesting the additional cost would need to be met by either spending cuts or tax rises.
“He made the point, rightly, that people would feel the effects of that spending in NHS and household budgets. These doses do not grow on trees,” the source said.
“Worst case scenario, if a new variant comes along or if Omicron doesn’t burn out, if we have to do this for years to come, that’s billions in costs that has not been foreseen which has to be paid for.”
The government this month signed contracts to buy an additional 114 million Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna doses for 2022, in addition to 35 million extra doses of Pfizer that were ordered in August.
Sunak reportedly raised the issue during last week’s meeting about Plan B measures, saying that regular booster doses were not built into current spending plans.
If additional boosters are required every three to six months, it could cost up to £5 billion a year.
A Treasury source told the newspaper: “We are continuing to do whatever it takes to support our fight against Covid, including providing new funding to roll out our booster campaign as quickly as possible to protect people from Omicron. We will also ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly.”
Meanwhile there are no available PCR test slots at walk-in or drive-through sites in some parts of England for people with coronavirus symptoms, as issues surrounding the delivery of rapid tests run into a second day.
Briefly on Tuesday morning, the government website said there were no slots available for PCR tests at walk-in and drive-in test sites across every region of England.
It was later updated to show that slots were available in every region, although there are “none available” in Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Berkshire, the Isle of Wight, Middlesex, Bristol and Mendip.
There are “very few” slots available in London, Surrey, Stockton-on-Tees, South Gloucestershire and South Glamorgan in Wales.
UK Health Security Agency sources said “very high demand” for PCR test slots at sites across the country had led to temporary reduced availability in some areas.
More slots are expected to be made available in the afternoon, although it is not clear whether these will be for later on in the day or for Wednesday.