The UK’s vaccine booster programme has been extended to include all adults over the age of 18 after fears over the spread of the Omicron variant throughout the country.
The announcement was made today by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) after 11 cases of the new strain were recorded in the UK.
The extension of the vaccine programme remained the country’s defence against rising cases of the Omicron variant, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid saying that “no one wants to see” lockdown restrictions reimposed.
At a glance: 5 key points:
- The Omicron strain was declared a “a variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation after it was first recorded in South Africa last week
- As of today (29 November), 11 cases of the Omicron variant have been recorded in the uk; six in Scotland and five in England
- Quick changes to air travel rules were introduced throughout the weekend, with South Africa and nine other African nations placed on the UK’s red list
- The JCVI has now extended the vaccine booster programme to include all adults over the age of 18 with a reduced amount of time between second vaccine and booster, opening the programme up to millions more people
- Javid said putting the “booster programme on steroids” was the main line of defence for the UK, adding that “no one wants to see” lockdown restrictions reintroduced
What was announced today?
The JCVI made the announcement of the changes to the vaccine booster programme and recommended that the current vaccine booster programme, which had only been open to vulnerable adults and those aged over 40, be made available to all adults over the age of 18.
Age groups will be offered their vaccine in order of descending age.
They also recommended the duration of time between a person’s second vaccine and their booster will be cut from six months to three months.
It was also announced that young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the vaccine, with a time gap of no less than 12 weeks after their first dose.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam described the booster programme, saying it has “never been more vital than at this point in time.”
Using a football analogy, he added: “We started with 11 players in the team with the Wuhan vaccine. You could say that we picked up a couple of injuries when Alpha came along and then Delta came along, those variants that are slightly different from the Wuhan original strain.
“We’ve had to use our subs off the bench to keep us in the game, but we are well in the game – you can see that with the current epidemiology in relation to Delta, that the vaccines are holding up very well and largely keeping us out of trouble.
“Omicron is like now picking up a couple of yellow cards to key players on top. We may be OK but we’re kind of starting to feel at risk that we might go down to 10 players and if that happens – or it’s a risk that’s going to happen – then we need everyone on the pitch to up their game in the meantime.
“We’re not going to wait for the red card to happen, we are going to act decisively now and we’re asking everyone to up their game, we’re asking everyone to play their part in the urgency now of the booster programme, coming forward the moment you are called by the NHS.”
What did Sajid Javid say?
The Health Secretary spoke in parliament shortly after the JCVI made their announcement, in which he accepted the committee’s recommendations.
He said: “With this new variant on the offensive, these measures will protect more people more quickly and make us better protected as a nation.
“It represents a huge step up for our vaccination programme, almost doubling the number of people who will be able to get a booster dose to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
Javid was also asked about the likelihood of lockdown measures being reintroduced amid fears over the transmission of the Omicron variant.
While not explicitly ruling out another lockdown for the country, Javid said that the main line of defence for the UK is putting the “booster programme on steroids.”
He added: “No-one wants to see those kinds of measures...Covid is with us to stay and we need to learn to live with it, and the best way I think we can do that is with the primary form of defence that we’ve got, which is our vaccination programme, and I hope he agrees with me that we’re absolutely right to basically put the booster programme on steroids because that will really help us.”
The changes to the booster programme comes after Javid said last week that the UK was still following ‘Plan A’ in its fight against the coronavirus.
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