All adults to be offered Covid booster vaccine, says Prof Anthony Harnden

·2-min read
All adults to be offered Covid booster vaccine, says Prof Anthony Harnden

All adults in Britain are to be offered booster jabs to step up the battle against the Omicron Covid-19 variant, a vaccines chief said on Monday.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), confirmed the booster programme would be extended to 18 to 39-year-olds.

Six more cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed in Scotland as health chiefs were racing to trace the contacts of other individuals who got the mutated virus including one person from southern Africa who visited the Westminster borough.

Ministers are seeking to slow the spread of the mutation amid fears it may be more resistant to vaccines and could transmit more quickly than the Delta variant which is dominant in the UK and many other countries.

“Inevitably everybody will be offered a booster but what we want to do is make sure that it’s done in a sensible order so that those that are most vulnerable for this infection can get boosted and their natural immunity levels can go up,” Prof Harnden told BBC Breakfast.

The JCVI is an advisory body but ministers have urged it to urgently consider the Omicron threat and are expected to take up its recommendations.

Prof Harnden stressed that there were two strategies to deal with the variant.

“Either we raise the immunity in the population or we find a matched vaccine,” he said.

“And it’s going to be quite a while before we can get a matched vaccine so it’s sensible to increase the immunity in the population and that will be done by actually encouraging those that are unvaccinated so far to get vaccinated, that is absolutely imperative, but also to make sure that we boost the most vulnerable in order.”

He added tht the JCVI was looking at reducing the six-month interval between second and booster doses.

Currently, teenagers aged 16 and 17 have a second vaccine dose at 12 weeks, while 12 to 15-year-olds have been recommended a single dose.

Prof Harnden said there was an argument to reduce that dose time to eight weeks, and look at whether 12 to 15-year-olds should have a second dose.

If Omicron has vaccine escape and “turns out to have a transmission advantage, then it would be sensible to have a new vaccine,” he added.

He explained that the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, were “relatively easy to tweak” and the pharmaceutical companies that produce them had indicated that they may be able to get a variant vaccine within 100 days.

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