'Get boosted now': Covid booster programme extended to over-18s, PM announces

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports on the PM's emergency plan to tackle Omicron

Over-18s will be offered a Covid booster jab by the end of the year in England, as the target for giving every eligible adult a third dose has been brought forward by a month over fears of a "tidal wave of Omicron" that could cause "very many deaths".

In a televised address to the nation, Boris Johnson announced that from Monday in England, the booster vaccine programme will be opened up to every adult over 18 who has had a second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago - the NHS booking system will be open to the younger age groups from Wednesday.

In a stark warning, the PM told the nation “we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection”, as he set a new deadline of jabbing everyone over 18 by the new year by launching the "Omicron emergency booster national mission".

“No one should be in any doubt that there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming and I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we need,” Mr Johnson.

'We're opening up the booster to every adult', PM announces

He said scientists had discovered that being fully vaccinated is “simply not enough” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus mutation and that, without a lightning speed mass booster campaign, the NHS could be overwhelmed.

The mission to administer millions of jabs by December 31 will see 42 military planning teams deployed across every health region, extra vaccine sites and mobile units, extended clinic opening hours to allow people to be jabbed around the clock and at weekends, and the training of thousands more volunteer vaccinators.

However nursing leaders have expressed concern about the “scale and pace” of the vaccine programme expansion, which will aim to jab almost a million people every day.

The NHS will have to postpone some planned appointments in order to meet the target of jabbing all adults by the end of the year.

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan on the 'monumental challenge' the NHS faces to vaccinate millions by the end of the year

The highest number of vaccinations reported in one day in the UK was 844,285 on March 20 2021 – equivalent to vaccinating the entire population of Liverpool in one day, according to the government website.

NHS England said GP teams will be asked to “clinically prioritise their services to free up maximal capacity” to support the Covid-19 vaccination programme, alongside delivering critical appointments such as cancer, urgent and emergency care.

It said this “might mean that for some people, routine appointments are postponed as part of the national mission to roll out boosters”.

Daniel Hewitt on the timing and manor of the announcement as the PM receives criticism from within his party over alleged Covid-rule-breaking parties

The PM’s address came as the UK Covid Alert Level was increased from Level 3 to Level 4 “in light of the rapid increase in Omicron cases”, the four UK chief medical officers said in a joint statement.

The Omicron variant has concerned scientists since its emergence in South Africa, and the UK has now recorded a total of 3,137 cases after a further 1,239 cases of the mutation were recorded on Sunday. But Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the actual number was likely to be 10 times as high.

Mr Zahawi also confirmed the first hospitalisations from the variant in the UK, warning that the the variant is "so infectious, it will seek [unvaccinated people] out".

'Tidal wave of Omicron is coming'

Speaking on Sunday, the Prime Minister said: “We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron here in the UK right now.

“At this point our scientists cannot say that Omicron is less severe.

“And even if that proved to be true we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS and lead sadly to very many deaths."

The PM said the UK government would support the devolved administrations to “accelerate” their own rollouts of third jabs.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would match the aim of offering boosters to all eligible adults before 2022, but added that more Covid-19 restrictions may still be needed to tackle the new strain.

Welsh leader Mark Drakeford also said “further steps” could be required to keep the country safe, as he encouraged people to “make having your booster a priority” amid a pledge to quicken the rollout.

Watch the PM's address to the nation: