LONDON: Covid booster jabs are to be offered to all over-18s to help stop a potential wave driven by the new variant Omicron. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation made a series of recommendations to widen the UK booster rollout “before any possible wave”.
They also said the minimum gap between the second dose and booster in the UK should be reduced to three months. And they recommended children aged 12 to 15 should be invited for a second dose three months after their first.
According to a BBC report, early evidence suggests Omicron has a higher re-infection risk, but it is not yet known how it impacts on the effectiveness of vaccines.
The government has announced new rules on self-isolation and that face masks will be compulsory in shops and on public transport in England from 04:00 GMT on Tuesday in an effort to contain the spread of the variant. Eleven cases of Omicron have now been detected in the UK.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam told a Downing Street briefing that Omicron was the “new kid on the block” and it has “always been the case that, at some point, we are going to get a variant that gives us heightened concern”.
He said although it was “pretty likely” that vaccines would be less effective against Omicron, it was more likely to affect the current jabs’ ability to prevent transmission. “Hopefully there will be smaller effects on preventing severe disease,” he said.
He said it would take scientists around three weeks to understand how vaccines performed against Omicron.
“Vaccine boosting is the thing we can do most easily while we wait for that science mist to clear,” he said.
Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, said he was not predicting the new variant would take hold in the UK but the experts wanted to be in the best possible position if there was an increase in infection.
He said: “With any vaccine during a pandemic, we get the greatest benefit for individuals and society if the vaccine is deployed before the wave starts. We want to provide boosters early enough.”
Director general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom, said the emergence of Omicron “underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is”. He said: “Although many of us might think we are done with Covid-19, it’s not done with us.”