Government plans UK-wide Covid booster alert to mobile phones

The government is planning to send out a UK-wide mobile alert urging the public to get a Covid booster, in a move mobile operators fear could spark a backlash from customers opposed to vaccinations.

The UK’s biggest mobile operators – EE, O2, Vodafone and Three UK – have been asked by the government to send a message on Boxing Day.

The campaign, which would see mobile operators send a message on behalf of the government to their tens of millions of customers, is understood to have not yet been given final sign-off.

The message is likely to be on behalf of the NHS, with text encouraging all over 18s to get an additional vaccination.

The proposed copy of the text message will say: “Get boosted now. Every adult needs a Covid-19 booster vaccine to protect against Omicron. Get your Covid-19 vaccine or booster. See NHS website for details.”

It is understood that the mobile operators will all enable the message to be sent, but some are agreeing with some reluctance given the highly politicised nature of the vaccination programme.

“Operators feel a little nervous about angering some customers because it is such a heated issue,” a telecoms industry source sid. “We will make it happen, but don’t want those who don’t agree with the message to blame us.”

Earlier this month, Tesco’s festive TV campaign featuring Santa Claus bearing a Covid vaccine passport was cleared by the UK ad watchdog despite anti-vaccination campaigners making it the second most complained about advert of all time.

Last March, at the beginning of the pandemic the government used mobile operators to send a non-controversial message regarding support of the NHS and offering general coronavirus health advice.

It is understood that the government plan will not use the nationwide mobile emergency alert system, set up to send targeted information in cases of events such as floods. Instead, if it goes ahead, the message is being sent by operators separately.

In October, the government launched a nationwide advertising campaign encouraging people to take up Covid-19 booster jabs.

The government’s push comes as Boris Johnson used his Christmas message on Friday to tell the public to give the “wonderful” gift of a booster jab to their families this year.

Johnson admitted that after nearly two years it is not possible to say the pandemic is receding, as the UK reported a record 120,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday.

In the speech, Johnson said: “Though the time for buying presents is theoretically running out, there is still a wonderful thing you can give your family and the whole country, and that is to get that jab, whether it is your first or second, or your booster, so that next year’s festivities are even better than this year’s.”

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The government decided against implementing further Covid restrictions ahead of Christmas, but is likely to implement some form of lockdown rules next week or early in the new year.

On Thursday, the latest analysis by the UK Health Security Agency suggested that Omicron is milder than past Covid variants such as Delta, with between 50% and 70% of people less likely to be admitted to hospital. However, data also showed that protection from a booster starts to wane after 10 weeks.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been contacted for comment.

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