Boris Promises Booster Dose to Every Eligible Person by End of January, Despite Stress to NHS

Peter Russell

November 30, 2021

Editor's note: Story updated with relevant information

Health service staff were "working at breakneck speed" to respond to the expansion of the COVID booster vaccination programme, NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard has said.

It followed the decision yesterday by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to offer a booster vaccine to 18-39 year olds who had received their second dose at least 3 months previously.

It also decided that children aged 12-15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech 3 months after their first dose.

During a Downing Street briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that "the target we have set out ourselves is to offer a booster to everyone eligible by the end of January".

He promised that the Government and health staff would be "throwing everything at it, in order to ensure that everyone eligible is offered that booster in just over 2 months".

He announced that at least 400 military personnel would be brought in to assist, more than 1500 community pharmacies would be offering booster jabs, while temporary vaccination centres would be "popping up like Christmas trees".

Ms Pritchard called the change to the vaccination programme as "the biggest change in eligibility since the programme was launched".

She said that GPs and pharmacies would be offered £15 per shot until the end of January, with an additional £5 for those administered on a Sunday, and a £30 premium for those delivered to the housebound until the end of next month.

The Care Quality Commission had agreed to continue the suspension of inspections of GP surgeries, she added.

NHS Providers warned that the Omicron variant had emerged at a time when the NHS was under "unprecedented pressure".

"Staff are working incredibly hard but are being asked time and time again to rise to the challenge," said Chief Executive Chris Hopson, adding: "This is unsustainable."

"It must be recognised that health and social care staff, who are already under huge pressure and working way beyond their capacity, are being expected to step up yet again," added Chair of RCN Council Carol Popplestone. "While those staff will no doubt rise to the challenge, many will be asking what more is being done now to support them given the huge pressures they are under."

New Cases in of Omicron Confirmed

The total number of cases of the Omicron variant in the UK has risen to 22.

It followed identification of 8 new cases in England.

Earlier, the Scottish Government said that there had been 9 cases of the Omicron variant in Scotland. All the cases have been traced to a single private event on November 20.

In a speech earlier, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, said none of the individuals had travelled abroad recently or had links with others who had travelled to countries in southern Africa where the variant was originally detected

She said that "the lack of any known travel or overseas connection to these cases does suggest that there is some community transmission of Omicron already happening in Scotland".

A link to the COP26 climate change conference, held in Glasgow between October 31 and November 12 could not be ruled out, Ms Sturgeon said.

Virus 'Might be Highly Infectious': Moderna

This morning, vaccine manufacturer Moderna said it was working on a candidate jab tailored to the new variant.

Stéphane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, told Sky News: "We believe this virus is highly infectious. We need to get more data on this, but it seems to be more infectious than Delta, which of course is problematic. We also believe that it's already present in most countries.

"Given the large number of mutations, it's highly possible that the efficacy of the vaccine – all of them – is going down. But we need to wait for the data to know if this is true, and how much is it going down."

Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, told the Science Media Centre: "The Moderna CEO may well be right in terms of whether the existing vaccines are sufficient to prevent infection per se."

"But the impact on hospitalisation and death is likely to be much less severe.  Immunity to severe disease is mediated by T cells as well as antibodies and these are less susceptible than antibodies to simple mutations."

She said it might be several weeks before it was possible to assess whether Omicron was affecting hospitalisation rates.

Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, said that the number of mutations with the variant "suggests that vaccines are unlikely to work as well".

He said: "It is certainly worthwhile developing and rolling out variant modified vaccines, as a precaution, and because it might improve efficacy against existing, as well as new strains, as they arise."

Re-introduction of Restrictions

New measures came into force today in the wake of the Omicron variant. Face coverings are compulsory in shops and other settings, including banks, post offices, hairdressers, and on public transport.

School pupils in England have been advised they should wear masks in communal areas.

From today, all travellers arriving in the country will be required to take a PCR test on or before day 2, and self-isolate until they have received a negative test result.

Social Distancing

Dr Jeny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, urged people today to limit interactions with others. She told  BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “If we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay."

"Being careful, not socialising when we don't particularly need to, and particularly going and getting those booster jabs which, of course, people will now be able to have at a 3-month interval from their primary course."

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that Dr Harries was an adviser and did not speak for the Government.

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