Covid booster jabs will be offered to everyone in England aged 18 and over by the end of January, Boris Johnson has announced.
The prime minister said last night that the government would be “throwing everything” at the expanded vaccination campaign, with “temporary vaccination centres popping up like Christmas trees” in a bid to fulfil its ambitious target, reported the BBC.
Booster doses will be given at 1,500 community pharmacy sites, temporary vaccination centres and extra hospital hubs in England, while 400 military personnel will assist the NHS and its “fantastic jabs army of volunteers”, he told a Downing Street press conference.
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Demand for the Covid-19 booster jab surged on Monday night after it was announced that everyone aged 18 and over is to be offered a third vaccine to tackle the spread of the new Omicron variant.
New advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) means the programme will be extended to all adults under 40.
At one point in the evening more than 6,000 people were waiting in the virtual queue to register for the booster jab on the NHS website. However, some found themselves “turned away” from the site, which on Monday had not been updated to reflect new guidelines, said The Independent.
The high demand for booster jabs will “reassure government and scientists” who fear that the new Omicron variant could “reduce the effectiveness” of vaccines in stopping infection - but will still protect against severe disease, said the newspaper.
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.”
Additional guidance will also see children aged 12 to 15 offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine around 12 weeks after their first jab.
More than 18.2m people in the UK have had a top-up jab, according to government data.
Will Omicron make vaccines less effective?
As of Tuesday, 22 cases of Omicron had been detected in England and Scotland. Several cases have been linked to travel in South Africa, but some have “no links to travel”, which “suggests a level of community transmission”, said Sky News.
While the latest guidelines aim to “get ahead of a potential wave driven by the new variant”, there is much that is “unknown” about Omicron, said the BBC’s health correspondent Nick Triggle - including whether it will trigger a significant new wave of infection in the UK.
Omicron could potentially make vaccines less effective, but “the booster dose has been shown to significantly increase the immune response, which will help counter any advantages this variant may have”, he said.
Who can currently get a booster?
Anyone over 50 or clinically vulnerable has been eligible for a booster vaccine since September. This was then extended to all over-40s earlier this month.
The expansion of the booster programme to all adults over 18 will mean a further 13 million adults in the UK will become eligible for a third jab, with a total of 53 million people covered by the programme, said The Guardian.
In its new guidance, the JCVI also recommended that severely immunosuppressed people should be offered a fourth dose of the vaccine as a booster, in addition to their three primary doses.
How long will I have to wait?
All eligible adults over 18 in England will be offered a booster vaccination by the end of January 2022, the prime minister has pledged.
During a Downing Street briefing, he said that the programme was likely to be prioritised according to age, with the NHS moving down through age cohorts in five-year bands, in the same way the vaccination effort has operated in the past.
On Monday, the government announced it will be following JCVI advice to cut the minimum time between a second jab and booster from six months to three, in a bid to speed up the vaccination programme and limit the spread of new variants. Those who are severely immunocompromised should also receive a booster jab three months after their three primary doses, said the new advice.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has suggested the rollout would be “staggered by age group”, with those closer to 40 invited for booster jabs first, reported The Guardian. The prime minister is expected to announce more details later today.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said in a press conference on Monday that the NHS will have to decide how to open up bookings to younger people in “in an orderly way”, which balances ramping up the vaccination programme with ensuring those most at risk can access booster vaccinations.
Previous advice from the JCVI had said that a six-month gap between the second and third doses of the vaccine ensured lasting protection.
But government announced in late October that clinical guidance had been updated to allow people at highest risk from the virus to have a third jab after five months, “to allow flexibility” in the booster programme.
How can I book my jab?
According to the NHS website, it is still “working on plans” to offer the booster jab to all over 18s, with those under 40 not yet able to book as of Wednesday.
For those over 40, eligible people can book online for an appointment at a vaccination centre or pharmacy, or visit a walk-in site without an appointment. Alternatively, they can wait to be contacted by their GP surgery or other local NHS services.
Anyone who has had a positive Covid-19 test must wait four weeks from the date that they received the result before booking.
Which vaccine will I get?
All third doses will be a full dose of the Pfizer vaccine or a half dose of the Moderna jab, irrespective of which type or types they received for their first and second dose.
The new guidance says both types of the vaccine should be used with “equal preference” in the booster programme, as they have both been shown to “substantially increase antibody levels when offered as a booster dose”.
However, “some people may be offered a booster dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine if they cannot have the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine”, according to the NHS website.
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