Booster jabs for every adult to fight Omicron and save Christmas

29 November 2021, 07:13 | Updated: 29 November 2021, 07:29

Millions of under-40s could be offered a booster jab if approved by the JCVI
Millions of under-40s could be offered a booster jab if approved by the JCVI. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Millions of people could be offered their booster jabs in the coming weeks as the Government fights to prevent a second Christmas under restrictions.

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Under emergency measures to limit the spread of the new Omicron variant, the booster programme could be expanded and the gap between second and third doses could be cut.

A decision from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) could come as early as Monday, according to Whitehall sources, but the announcement could also come on Tuesday.

Read more: Third UK Omicron case detected as compulsory face masks return

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It comes as a number of other measures have been tightened to deal with the new variant, which first emerged in South Africa.

Mask rules have been made stricter, with teachers and pupils in year seven and above now being "strongly advised" to wear them in communal areas in English schools.

They will also become mandatory in shops and public transport, although not in hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants.

Isolation guidance has also been tightened, with close contacts of positive Omicron cases being ordered to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status.

International travel is also affected, with passengers arriving in the UK from 4am on Tuesday required to take a PCR test by the end of their second day and isolate until they receive a negative test.

Ten southern African nations have also been added to the red list.

Read more: Omicron: Symptoms, cases, and what we know so far

Watch: Scientific adviser: We don’t yet know if Omicron resists vaccines or is more contagious

Boosters have so far been limited to over-40s, care home staff, frontline workers, vulnerable people or people who live with or care for a vulnerable individual.

JCVI deputy chairman Professor Anthony Harnden said extending the age range for boosters and reducing the gap between second and third doses was "a sensible strategy".

On Monday Britain will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers to discuss the variant amid concerns it could spread quickly and partially evade the protection of existing vaccines.

Three confirmed cases of the strain have now been confirmed in the UK, the third being a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster before leaving England.

The first two infections were identified in Nottingham and Essex, where officials were ordering PCR tests for customers of a KFC in Brentwood as far back as November 19.

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Watch: Reaction to Omicron 'totally over the top', says South Africa top doc

It is "very likely" that further cases of Omicron in the UK will be detected in the coming days, according to Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid told families they should plan for a "great" Christmas "as normal" and insisted it was "nowhere near" time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance.

It was hoped the new measures announced over the weekend would buy time for scientists to gain greater understanding of Omicron as ministers put the NHS on notice to deliver many more vaccines every day.