Booster COVID jabs offered to all adults in England
The UK government has said it will step up its COVID-19 booster vaccination dramatically, with everyone in England aged over 18 offered a third dose before the end of the month.
Westminster has promised additional support for the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to step up the booster campaign, and Scotland has already said it intends to match England's target.
The move comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson predicted a "tidal wave" of infections caused by the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 in a news conference last night, whilst announcing the UK is now at level four – meaning high or rising transmission levels – for the first time since May.
The booster plan is a hugely ambitious target which will require the delivery of a million jabs a day – a higher rate than has ever been achieved throughout the pandemic – and has raised concerns that the effort will add to the stresses on an NHS already struggling to cope with a backlog of care for other conditions.
GPs are already being asked to postpone some other appointments, which will hold up routine health checks and elective surgeries and so will contribute to record waiting times in the health service.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid insisted this morning that a bold step had to be taken on boosters, as cases involving Omicron seem to be doubling every couple of days, and it is better to act now to get ahead of the virus even if it is found to cause milder COVID-19.
That seems to be the case in South Africa, although one possible confounder there is that Omicron has spread initially through a relatively young age group. It's unclear how that picture could change if it gets established in an older population.
So far, there have been 10 confirmed hospitalisations in the UK involving Omicron, but no deaths attributed to the new variant, said Javid. Overall case numbers meanwhile continue to climb, with another 48,854 infections and 52 deaths recorded across the UK yesterday.
In London, around 40% of all cases are Omicron just a matter of days after it was first identified in the UK, pointing to its extremely high transmissibility.
Javid told the BBC this morning that serious health concerns like suspected cancer will be unaffected as those "will remain a priority" as the booster campaign steps up.
The expansion of the booster campaign is accompanied by a return to some social restrictions under the government's 'Plan B,' including mandatory face masks in public spaces like shops, cinemas and theatres, and advice for people to work from home if possible.
The move comes as reports suggest the Omicron variant is highly transmissible – perhaps more so than Delta – and that two doses of COVID-19 vaccines is not enough to provide protection.
At the moment, people aged 30 or over can book an appointment for a booster as long as at least three months have elapsed since their second dose, and that will be extended to the over-18s from Wednesday, said the government.
Drop-in appointments will also be available in some areas for all adults from today.