All people aged 18 and over are to be offered a Covid-19 booster jab after evidence suggested that higher antibody levels may protect better against the new Omicron variant, according to The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at least 400 military personnel will help the NHS and volunteers deliver jabs, with centres “popping up like Christmas trees.”
Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “We’ve already done almost 18 million boosters across the UK but we’ve got millions more to do to protect the most vulnerable.” He plans to work together with administrations to “ramp up capacity” across the UK.
“We’re going to be throwing everything at it in order to ensure that everyone eligible is offered that booster, as I say, in just over two months,” he added.
In further advice, young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.
Experts believe the new omicron variant could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in stopping people getting infected, though they think vaccines may still protect against severe disease. However, it could be three more weeks before further details emerge from scientists on how transmissible the variant is, whether it evades vaccine protection and whether it causes more severe disease.
All adults between the ages of 18 to 39, in order of descending age groups, will be offered a booster vaccine to increase their level of protection. Those who are clinically vulnerable should be prioritised, the JCVI said.
Those aged 40 and over are already eligible.
How can I get it?
Everyone who is eligible for a coronavirus booster jab will be offered one by the end of January, Boris Johnson said.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS will contact you when you are due to book in for your lifesaving booster vaccination, and when you get the call, it’s vital that people come forward as quickly as possible.”
Like the initial vaccine programme, this programme will go down through the age groups in increments, this time by five-year gaps. The NHS will start calling forward people aged 18 to 39 once those prioritised have received the jab.
When should I get it?
The head of the NHS warned that the campaign “can’t happen overnight” and told people not to contact the NHS until they are called forward.
The JCVI has said gaps between the second Covid-19 vaccine and booster shots should be reduced from six months to three months. Severely immunosuppressed people should be offered a booster dose no sooner than three months after completing their primary course of three doses.
They added that both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines can be given as a booster for adults – with equal preference given to both.
What have people said?
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the booster programme would be put “on steroids” to meet the target.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, said: “Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant.
“This is an important way for us to reduce the impact of this variant on our lives, especially in the coming months. If you are eligible for a booster, please take up the offer and keep yourself protected as we head into winter.”
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said NHS staff will “move heaven and earth to vaccinate as many people as possible” to ensure that people can enjoy Christmas with their loved ones. She added that volunteers are needed to help the “vital national effort” of expanding the coronavirus vaccine programme, adding the service “will not be able to do it alone.”
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said: “The public can be confident that our robust regulatory assessment supports the JCVI’s recommended extension to the vaccination campaign.
“This further strengthens our ability to ensure people are protected against Covid-19 and saves lives.
“Our safety monitoring to date shows that Covid-19 vaccines continue to have a positive safety profile for the majority of people. When you are called for your booster dose, you can come forward confident that the benefits in preventing serious Covid-19 far outweigh any risks.”
On Monday afternoon, health ministers from the G7 group of nations are holding an urgent meeting to discuss the impact of the new Omicron variant. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), preliminary evidence suggests Omicron carries a higher risk of reinfection.
The UK currently has 11 cases of the variant after the Scottish government announced on Monday morning it had discovered four cases in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.
One other case has been identified in Brentwood, Essex, with another in Nottingham, while a third case was detected in England on Sunday in a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster before leaving the country. Two more were detected in London, Sajid Javid announced today.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney said that some of the Omicron variant cases identified in Scotland have no travel history, suggesting a degree of community transmission.
From Tuesday, the wearing of face masks was made compulsory in shops and on public transport, while PCR tests have been brought back in for travellers returning to the UK.