The UK Covid booster programme should be expanded to all adults and the gap between second and third vaccine jabs halved to three months, government scientific advisers said on Monday as the number of confirmed cases involving the new Omicron variant increased to nine.
Scientists on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) told a briefing that they had also recommended that 12 to 15-year-olds should be give a second dose of a Covid vaccine.
The third booster jab should not be administered any sooner than three months after the second dose, the advisory body noted. This contrasts with previous guidance that suggested a six-month gap between second and third doses.
The expansion of the booster programme should follow the same prioritisation as outlined during phase 1 and phase 2 of the vaccine programme, the JCVI added, to ensure that the most vulnerable are provided with the necessary protection first.
The announcement follows growing concern among politicians and scientists over the global spread of the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa. The Scottish government on Monday confirmed that six Omicron cases had been identified in Lanarkshire, Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the UK’s medicine regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that she remained confident of the safety of Covid-19 vaccines.
“The vast majority of reactions which are reported relate to expected side effects such as injection site reactions and flu-like symptoms, as was seen in our initial assessment,” she added. “Our proactive monitoring of the safety of booster doses does not raise any new concerns.”
Earlier on Monday, health secretary Sajid Javid convened a meeting with fellow health ministers from the G7 group of developed economies to discuss how best to tackle the rapidly spreading variant. Javid is also expected to give a statement to the House of Commons later on Monday afternoon.
New coronavirus measures are due to take effect in England from 4am on Tuesday, with the public required to wear face coverings while travelling on public transport and while in retail settings such as supermarkets and hairdressers.
Individuals travelling into the UK, regardless of their vaccination status, must take a day 2 PCR test and self isolate until they have a negative test result. The government will review the measures in three weeks’ time.