Uncertainty around the Omicron variant has sparked action with the booster programme, ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports
Booster jabs are set to be offered to over 18s in the UK and over 12s will soon be told they can have their second vaccine dose, as the government seeks to protect Britons from a worrying new variant of coronavirus known as Omicron.
Adults aged between 18 and 39 will be offered their booster jab three months after their second dose, halving the six month delay which was previously recommended.
And those aged between 12 and 15 will be allowed their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine no sooner than three months after the first dose - this age group was previously only allowed one jab.
Another change to the vaccine programme will see all those with severely weakened immune systems offered their booster dose. Fourth doses should be administered no sooner than three months after their primary course of three doses is complete.
England and Scotland have already announced they will be extending their vaccine programmes, while Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to follow.
Changes to the vaccine programme:
Adults aged between 18 and 39 will be eligible for a booster jab
Youngsters aged between 12 and 15 will be allowed a second dose
Severely immunosuppressed individuals can have their fourth dose
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Booster jabs will be vaccines produced by either Pfizer or Moderna, while second doses for secondary school pupils will be Pfizer.
The changes have been made following advice to the government from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Ministers are hoping to drive up immunity for the upcoming winter months after several cases of the new variant were found in the UK.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid immunisation at 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."
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said by extending the booster jab scheme to over 18s, the number of people eligible had doubled.
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The Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which advises on the safety of vaccines, said the public can be "confident" that a booster jab is safe.
Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive said extending the booster jab scheme "further strengthens our ability to ensure people are protected against Covid-19".
"Our proactive monitoring of the safety of booster doses does not raise any new concerns," she said, adding: "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.”
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England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Van-Tam insisted it was "not all doom and gloom", telling a Downing Street press conference: "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 in preventing severe disease."
Mr Javid said he "won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than is necessary" if it turns out the Omicron variant is less dangerous than originally thought.
The UK has confirmed just 11 cases of the variant so far, however that number is expected to rocket.
But Health Minister Ed Argar said there are currently no plans to further tighten restrictions, after rules were brought in enforcing masks in shops and increased testing for international arrivals.
He told ITV News there is "no plan to move to Plan B at the moment", adding ministers "believe we've struck the right balance with this".
Plan B could mean a widening of the settings in which face masks are requires, introducing mandatory vaccine-only Covid-status certification to enter venues and asking people to work from home.
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From 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.
MPs will debate and vote on the new Covid restrictions in England on Tuesday.
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 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".