Covid: Millions could be offered booster jabs earlier to stop spread of Omicron variant

Millions more people could be offered a Covid booster jab earlier as the UK's expert advisers on vaccines meet to discuss whether to expand the third jab programme amid concerns over the Omicron variant.

The deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Professor Anthony Harnden, said accelerating the booster programme by extending the eligible age range and reducing the interval between the second and booster doses “will be a sensible strategy”.

He said there was a "good, strong argument for raising the antibody level in the whole of the community".

“So, accelerating the booster programme, both by extending the age range and by reducing the interval between the second dose and the booster dose, will be an sensible strategy," Prof Harnden said.

He added: “Those adults 18 plus will have an offer of a booster earlier than we had previously envisaged.”

Prof Harnden told BBC Breakfast there were two strategies to deal with the variant. "Either we raise the immunity in the population or we find a matched vaccine," he said. "And it's going to be quite a while before we can get a matched vaccine so it's sensible to increase the immunity in the population and that will be done by actually encouraging those that are unvaccinated so far to get vaccinated, that is absolutely imperative, but also to make sure that we boost the most vulnerable in order. "Inevitably everybody will be offered a booster but what we want to do is make sure that it's done in a sensible order so that those that are most vulnerable for this infection can get boosted and their natural immunity levels can go up."

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The health secretary said he is expecting to get advice on expanding the booster programme from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation “imminently".

“This is all about acting swiftly in a proportionate and balanced way to protect the progress that we have made,” Sajid Javid said.

Speaking over the weekend, Sajid Javid said: vaccines were "our first form of defence" and jabs were now more important “than it was before”.“We know that vaccines work. Yes, this new variant may make it less effective or not. But the vaccines work, they are our first form of defence and that is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI to give me very quick advice on broadening boosting our booster programme," he told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News.

Mr Javid also told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC that he has “asked the NHS to prepare for much greater capacity in our vaccination programme”.

Nine cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have now been detected in the UK.

Six cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant were identified in Scotland, the Scottish Government has announced on Monday.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Sunday a the person tested positive for the variant after arriving in the UK and the case is linked to travel to southern Africa.

The UKHSA said the person was in Westminster, central London, during their stay but is no longer in the UK.One of the earlier reported cases is located in Brentwood, Essex, while the other is in Nottingham, Mr Javid said.

The two cases are linked and there is also a link to travel to southern Africa.Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a raft of measures in a bid to slow the spread of Omicron in the UK, including mask-wearing on public transport and in shops from Tuesday.

Anyone who travels abroad must take a PCR test on day two of their arrival back in the UK and self-isolate until they get a negative result.

All staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 – the first year of secondary school – or above, are “strongly advised” to wear a covering in communal areas in England's schools and colleges, unless they are exempt.The Omicron variant has been designated as one of "concern" by the World Health Organization (WHO), with one UK health official calling it the “worst one we’ve seen so far”.Health minister Edward Argar said he was not anticipating that coronavirus restrictions would be tightened further in the run up to Christmas, following a change in rules this week. Mr Argar told Sky News he was "looking forward to a Christmas spent with family and friends". Asked if the government might tighten up the rules even further in the next three weeks, Mr Argar said: "It's not something I'm anticipating."