Omicron: Your questions answered on boosters, vaccines during pregnancy and whether to cancel plans

Dr Sarah Jarvis and Interim Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tim Waite answer your questions on booster jabs and Omicron

The booster programme in the UK is being accelerated amid a surge in cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant that is sweeping the country.

As new real-world data suggests two doses of the Pfizer vaccine offer 70% protection against hospital admission, GP Dr Sarah Jarvis and Interim Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tim Waite answer ITV News' viewers questions on the booster rollout - is it safe for pregnant women? How risky is it to go to a concert at an arena amid Omicron fears? And why you need to wait to have a third dose.

Question: How long after developing Covid do you have to wait before having a booster?

Dr Jarvis: At the moment, the recommendation is very clear that it should be 28 days. There are a few reasons for saying that, first is that your body is still recovering after having Covid and, therefore, once you got past that 28 days, there's a better chance your body will be in a good position to mount a new immune response. The second thing to bear in mind is to get vaccinated, you have to go into a vaccine centre. And although, later on in that month, you may not be infectious, in an early stage you might be and we really don't want people to come away from the vaccine centre having had both a booster and a dose of Covid infection.

Question: Is it safe to have a booster jab when you are pregnant?

Dr Waite: The short answer is yes. We're really encouraging pregnant women to come forward and get vaccinated. There's a huge amount now of real world evidence of both the effectiveness and the safety of vaccinations in pregnancy. There is also quite a lot of evidence that shows what isn't safe in pregnancy is getting infected with Covid. Of the pregnant women who are in hospital with Covid, about 98% are unvaccinated, and some of them are ending up in intensive care - a similar proportion of the pregnant women who go into intensive care with Covid are unvaccinated.

Pregnant are urged to come forward for their jabs. Credit: PA

In terms of the safety, we know that it's safe for mum, we know that it's safe for the baby.

We've looked at outcomes here, and you can see that there is no difference at all in terms of the risk of very, very premature birth or very low weight birth.

It's a safe vaccine and we'd encourage pregnant women, particularly, please do come forward for your vaccine.

Question: What about somebody who's in a position where they have had their second dose, as advised and encouraged, but now they're having to wait three months for their booster and they're pregnant right now. What should they do?

Dr Waite: The reason for waiting for three months between your second dose and having your booster is because we know that the reason for having boosters is this effectiveness wanes over time, and that waning doesn't start straight away. Your vaccine after two doses, particularly against Delta, and Delta is still the dominant variant in many parts of the country and is certainly the dominant variants in terms of people coming into hospital at the moment, that weaning happens slowly. So it's absolutely fine to wait for that three month interval before having a booster.

Question: What are you advising pregnant women who are in that position where they don't qualify because of the gap to have the booster yet?

Dr Jarvis: Absolutely saying that in those first three months, as we've just heard, the antibody levels are going to be high. There are two sets of immunity, two different kinds of immunity. The first are antibodies, which are largely your body's first line of defence, it stops the virus from getting into the body from the nose and from the throat because the antibodies come to the spot there and they mop them up.

What we know, is that those may wane over time, but your longer term immunity, which offers protection against really serious illness, is largely as a result of something called your T-cells and these T killer cells, which actually kill virus infected cells deeper inside your body, and that is going to last for much longer.

So having had two doses, if you're within three months it's highly likely you'll be protected both from getting symptomatic Covid and from becoming seriously unwell. Longer after that, the protection against getting ill with Covid, or getting infected with Covid, is much lower but you should still have significant protection against severe illness.

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Question: I am one of many people who are immunosuppressed so my first two Covid jabs didn't work, I have no antibodies. I've had a third dose but I'm not due a booster until January. I am still shielding. What's your advice?

Dr Waite: The first piece of advice would be certainly to keep that appointment for your third dose when it comes up.

The boosters and vaccines are one part of the puzzle for keeping us all safe at the moment and it's important that we all think about how we take steps to look after each other.

First of all, if you have symptoms, absolutely you should be staying at home, wait for a PCR and wait for the result of that PCR.

All of us now have access to a lateral flow device test. Take these if you're going out, if you're going socialising, if you're going to see friends and family, it will help us keep one another safe if you have no symptoms. And then there's the really important stuff about ventilation and wearing masks, that's about how fresh the air is and how we're making sure that we're not breathing out Covid particles unknowingly.

All of those are steps that we can take to protect one another as well as to protect ourselves.

Question: I'm going to see Jane McDonald at Leeds Arena on Sunday. How big is the risk sitting with 12,000 other people? I've had my booster and I know everyone has to have a Covid pass and wear masks but I'm still worried about catching Covid and having to isolate over Christmas.

Dr Jarvis: My personal feeling, it's your choice - I'm not doing it. And if people come to me and say 'would you do it yourself or do you advise me not to do it,' all I can say is I am choosing not to do it. There are ways that you can reduce the risk - lateral flow and face coverings will help - with that but people take their face coverings off a lot, people wear them underneath the noses.

A GP administers the Covid booster jab Credit: PA

Question: We haven't been told whether children are going to get a booster but even if that does come into the plan in the future, we're going to be too late against Omicron. What's your advice on that?

Dr Waite: There's a process to go through before we get to a decision about boosters.

The steps there are, first of all the MHRA, that's the Medicine, Healthcare and Regulatory Agency, who look at any given vaccine and decide on whether or not it is safe and whether it is effective. Once a vaccine or any medication has passed that stage the JCVI, that's the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation will then say what's the best way of deploying this vaccine in the population in order to make sure that it offers the greatest possible level of protection.

The JCVI will make a decision on whether we should have boosters in people below the age of 18 but at the moment, the focus in children is very much on those first and second doses because of course you can't have a booster until that primary course is complete.

Question: My 25-year-old daughter is a teacher and had a second vaccine eight months ago. At the time she was working with a vulnerable child so had to have it early. She's called 119 and she now can't get the booster. So what's your advice for her? Is it the same thing that she will have a little bit of protection anyway.

Dr Jarvis: She should have protection against severe illness but she's quite right, eight months on, it's going to be significantly less. So I would strongly advise that she might want to look around. There are a lot of walk in centres which are currently offering it and we know that the availability is going to be ramped up dramatically in the next few days, both for GP led centres for pharmacists who are coming online and through walking centre. So try one of those.