Covid boosters for everyone over 18: Third jabs are approved for ALL adults with a three-month gap to protect against incoming Omicron wave — and children aged 12-15 can now get second shot
All Britons over the age of 18 were today made eligible for Covid booster vaccines as ministers try to shield against an incoming wave of the Omicron variant.
Some 19million people aged 18 to 39 will be able to come forward for their third dose so long as they had their second at least three months ago.
The top-up drive, which previously was only open to over-40s, will prioritise people based on their age so that those who are most vulnerable get first access.
Severely immunosuppressed patients who were given three vaccine doses as part of their primary course will also be offered a fourth booster dose.
No10 experts fear the highly evolved Omicron strain, already thought to be spreading domestically, may ‘significantly’ reduce the effectiveness of two vaccine doses.
It is hoped that the extremely high protection offered by boosters will broaden immunity against the new strain. Officials said they were shortening the gap between jabs to ensure everyone had protection before another wave of the pandemic hits the UK — which may be triggered by the new variant.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a Downing Street press conference that he was asking people ‘not to panic’, but that neither should they ‘ignore the weather forecast’. He added that boosters were ‘more urgent’ now than they had ever been before.
Real-world data suggests boosters slash the chance of catching Covid by more than 95 per cent, and even higher against severe illness.
Children aged 12 to 15 are also now being offered a second dose of Pfizer for the first time as part of the new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The panel had held back on giving them two doses due to concerns about a very rare form of heart inflammation, which is slightly more common after the second shot.
Pictured from left to right Professor Wei Shen Lim, head of the JCVI which design Britain’s roll out, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, and Dr June Raine, the head of the MHRA
Professor Van-Tam told a Downing Street press briefing that it was not all ‘doom and gloom’ and that the boosters should still provide some protection against hospital admissions and deaths.
But he said the sheer number of mutations on the virus meant it was ‘likely’ to ‘significantly’ reduce jabs’ ability to prevent infections.
Now large-scale Christmas parties are CANCELLED: Big City firms say festive bashes are off for the second year running
UK firms are cancelling mass Christmas parties as fears mount over the new Omicron variant — as the UK hospitality industry said bookings were being scrapped and plans changed due to the ‘chilling’ talk of Plan B.
The emergence of the new Covid-19 strain has forced companies to scrap parties for large numbers of people, turning instead to smaller departmental gatherings as the pandemic threatens the festive season for a second year.
Law firm Osborne Clarke in London said they were now opting for ‘low key festivities’ rather than ‘big shindigs’.
The firm’s managing partner Ray Berg told MailOnline: ‘We asked our people and their preference is for local team-level celebrations, so we’re opting for low key festivities rather than big shindigs this year.
‘Given the emergence of a new variant I think we made the right call, no one wants to have a second lockdown Christmas.’
And while the UK’s hospitality sector said businesses recovering from the pandemic had ‘invested heavily’ in making their venues safe for the public with measures including ventilation, hygiene and sanitation, events planners said the Omicron variant was causing concern.
One senior events planner in London said they were now ‘on the cusp’ of clients stalling with balance payments for New Year’s parties.
Professor Wei Shen-Lim, the chair of Britain’s Covid vaccine advisory panel the JCVI, told the briefing they were extending boosters to younger age groups to protect against infections and the Omicron variant.
He said: ‘Viruses develop variants that are different to the original virus increase the likelihood of a mismatch between the vaccine on the one hand and the variant on the other hand
‘The larger the mismatch between vaccine and variant the greater the likelihood that the level of protection provided by the vaccine will be lowered
‘From what we know about the variant [Omicron] so far it may be that the vaccines that we have at the moment may be less good than against the current circulating delta variant.
‘One way of reducing the impact of this mismatch between vaccine and variant is to increase the strength of the immune response provided by this currency vaccine.
‘In other words, if we can raise the level of the immune response generated by this current vaccine that higher level of immune response will reach out and provide extra protection to mismatched variants.’
He said they were slashing the time between second dose and booster shot from six months to three to ensure people had the best possible protection before a potential winter wave.
He said: ‘With any vaccine during a pandemic we get the greatest benefit of the vaccine both for individuals and society if the vaccine is deployed before the wave starts.
‘If we deploy a vaccine in the middle of a wave or even after the peak of a wave then the benefit from the vaccine is much lower. We therefore want to provide boosters early enough such that it is before any possible wave.
He added: ‘I am not here predicting there will be a wave of the new variant but should there be a wave we want to be in the best possible position.’
He urged anyone who is already eligible for a booster to get the jab to protect themselves and their families from the virus.
There have been nine cases of the Omicron variant reported in Britain, and scientists are concerned that it has mutations linked with higher transmissibility and a possible reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday had instructed the JCVI to review the booster programme urgently given the evolving situation with Omicron after the first cases of the variant were reported.
Though Johnson’s government controls health policy in England alone, JCVI has informed the rollout of Covid vaccines in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The panel reiterated that Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine were the preferred vaccines to use in booster shots.