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Covid-19 booster vaccinations to be offered to all over-18s three months after a second dose to combat Omicron variant

All over-18s will be offered a Covid-19 booster vaccination, at least three months after their second dose, as part of efforts to combat the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The government has confirmed that those aged 12-15 will also be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, at least 12 weeks after their first dose.

A Pfizer vaccine. Picture: PA
A Pfizer vaccine. Picture: PA

The moves come amid early evidence that suggests higher antibody levels may protect better against the variant, which has many mutations.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised the government that all adults aged 18 to 39 should be offered a booster dose, in order of descending age groups, to increase their level of protection.

Those aged 40 and over are already eligible for a booster vaccine and can access them on a walk-in basis from today (November 29) at all large-scale vaccination sites in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, except Chesterton Bowls Club, which will offer vaccinations by appointment only, for all groups, from Thursday, December 2. 2021.

The NHS and local health authorities are now expected to work out the logistics of the extended programme and announce plans for the accelerated roll-out in the coming days.

See a full list of large-scale vaccination sites in Cambridgeshire here

Boosters have been on offer six months after second jabs. But the government said evidence from the Cov-Boost study - which involved Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) and was led by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust - showed that a booster would significantly bolster immunity after three months.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a Downing Street briefing that coronavirus variants were inevitable and Omicron was the “new kid on the block for now”.

He added: “I think it’s true to say that scientists around the world, not just in the UK, unfortunately agree that this one is of increased concern.”

A Covid-19 vaccination
A Covid-19 vaccination

He said there “are far more things we don’t know yet, than things we do know” about the variant, but that more would become clear, he predicted, in the next three weeks.

He said the “number of mutations present, already on first principle, makes us worry about a possible effect on vaccine effectiveness”.

Urging people not to panic, Prof Van-Tam said there were still uncertainties about how transmissible the variant is and its impact on severity of disease.

“On the effects of the new variants, and how well vaccine effectiveness will hold up, here I want to be clear that this is not all doom and gloom at this stage,” he said.

“I do not want people to panic at this stage. If vaccine effectiveness is reduced, as seems pretty likely to some extent, the biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections and, hopefully, there will be smaller effects on preventing severe disease.

“That is something that is there for scientists to work out in the next few weeks.”

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.”

The professor told the briefing there was an increased likelihood of a “mismatch” between current vaccines and the variant, which may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

But he said a boost of either Moderna or Pfizer could really push up the immune response.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK. Graphic: PA
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK. Graphic: PA

If we can raise the level of immune response of the vaccine, that higher level of immune response will reach out and provide an extra level of protection to mismatched variants”, he said.

The expert said there was also a need to deploy booster vaccines “before the wave starts” with any new variant, which is why the new expansion of the vaccine programme is being brought in.

In its advice to ministers, the JCVI said that both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines can be given as a booster for adults – with equal preference given to both.

In a speech to the King’s Fund annual conference on Monday, 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.

But she said 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: “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.”

A vaccination is given
A vaccination is given

On Monday afternoon, health ministers from the G7 group of nations held an urgent meeting to discuss the impact of Omicron.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said Health Secretary Sajid Javid had “underlined the importance of Covid-19 surveillance and countries’ abilities to quickly share findings with the international community as well as the role of booster vaccination programmes to strengthen our defences”.

The UK now has 11 confirmed cases of the variant. 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 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 cases in England were announced on Monday in Croydon and Wandsworth in London.

From 4am on Tuesday, the wearing of face masks is set to be compulsory in shops and on public transport, while PCR tests will be brought back in for travellers returning to the UK.

Schools have been told by the Department for Education that pupils in Year 7 and above, along with staff and visitors, should wear masks in communal areas.

Cambridgeshire had more than 3,000 cases of Covid-19 in the week to November 21.

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