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Covid: All UK adults should get booster, say advisers JCVIon November 29, 2021 at 4:45 pm

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The recommendation, which needs ministerial approval, also suggests second doses for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Covid booster jabs should be offered to all over-18s to help stop a potential wave driven by the new variant Omicron, UK government advisers say.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation also said the minimum gap between the second dose and booster should be reduced to three months.

They also recommended children aged 12 to 15 should be invited for a second dose three months after their first.

Eleven cases of the Omicron variant have now been detected in the UK.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor 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”.

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… before any possible wave.”

In its advice, the JCVI also recommended severely immunosuppressed people should be offered a fourth dose of the vaccine as a booster. They are currently receiving three jabs.

The experts added that the booster rollout should take account of vulnerability. Boosters should be offered in order of descending age groups, with priority given those in a Covid at-risk group, they said.

The JCVI’s advice has been given to ministers in all parts of the UK. It only gives recommendations and the final decision on measures to combat Covid lies with the politicians.

It also said it would continue to review data on the potential benefits and risks of offering the Covid vaccine to children aged 5 to 11.

Early evidence suggests the new Omicron variant – initially reported to the World Health Organization from South Africa on Wednesday – has a higher re-infection risk.

The UK Health Security Agency said the latest two cases to be detected in the UK have links to travel in southern Africa. They were found in the Camden and Wandsworth areas of London.

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Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

The aim of this announcement is to get ahead of a potential wave driven by the new variant Omicron.

If that happens – and it is an “if” at this stage because so much is unknown about the new variant – giving more people a booster jab will certainly help.

While Omicron may make the vaccines less effective, the booster dose has been shown to significantly increase the immune response, which will help counter any advantages this variant may have.

But that will only happen if the vaccine is in people’s arms. The NHS is doing around 2.5 million boosters a week on average at the moment. At that rate it will take three months to vaccinate all those eligible.

Increasing that will not be easy. Around 50 mass vaccination centres have closed since the spring. Many GPs have also stepped back to concentrate on flu jabs and their day-to-day work.

It means the solution is likely to lie in extending the opening hours of current vaccination clinics late into the evenings and bringing in extra staff and volunteers to help.

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The government has unveiled new rules on face masks and isolation for England to contain the spread of the new variant that are due to come in to force at 04:00 GMT on Tuesday.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs they would be given a chance to debate and vote on those measures.

He said: “If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary.

“Our experience of fighting this virus has shown us it’s best to act decisively and swiftly when we see a potential threat. Which is why we’re building our defences and putting these measures in place without delay.”

Mr Javid told MPs he had accepted the JCVI’s advice “in full”. Scotland has also announced it would follow the recommendations, while Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to accept them.

The average number of daily confirmed Covid cases in the UK began rising again in early November. A further 42,583 confirmed cases were announced on Monday.

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