Warning of a “blizzard” of new coronavirus infections as British Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced that the UK will extend its Covid-19 vaccine booster programme to include over 40s.
With the NHS already under pressure and concerns about rising infection levels in Europe, the government extended the vaccine booster programme to younger people in an effort to bolster waning immunity levels during the winter months. The announcement comes on the back of advice from the independent body of scientists that makes vaccine recommendations to the British government, that people aged 40 to 49 will also be eligible for a vaccine booster shot six months after their initial shot.
Until now the only groups eligible for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine booster were people aged 50 and over, health and care workers and younger people who were deemed to vulnerable.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation also said that second doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been approved for 16 and 17-year-olds 12 weeks after their first. It said the the broadening of the booster campaign and the offer of a second jab to older teenagers will “help extend our protection into 2022.”
There has been no change in the advise for 12-15-year-olds, with the UK still only offering a single dose of vaccine.
In announcing the Covid-19 vaccine booster programme extension he referred to the “storm clouds” that were gathering over Europe, which have seen fresh lockdowns imposed in Austria and the Netherlands, Johnson urged people to get that extra level of protection by getting their booster jab.
He said “A new wave of Covid-19 has steadily swept through central Europe and is now affecting our nearest neighbours in Western Europe. Our friends on the continent have been forced to respond with various degrees of new restrictions, from full lockdowns, to lockdowns for the unvaccinated, to restrictions on business opening hours and restrictions on social gatherings.”
Compared to the rest of Europe, the UK has recorded high, but relatively stable, levels of coronavirus infections following the lifting of most restrictions in the summer. However, in the past few weeks, a number of European countries have seen sharp infection spikes, prompting renewed concerns about the outlook for the UK.
“We don’t yet know the extent to which this new wave will wash up on our shores, but history shows we cannot afford to be complacent,” Johnson said.
The government has so far resisted reimposing mandatory laws such as requiring people to wear masks indoors or introducing vaccine passport despite the increase in cases seen over the past few days and weeks. The increase has been particularly high amongst students with more than 260,000 confirmed infections in the past week, up 6% on the previous week.
Johnson said there was nothing currently in the data which suggested a need to increase restrictions in England, although he would not rule out more restrictions if pressure on the NHS continued to rise. Currently there are in the region of 8,500 people in hospital, which is well down on the near 40,000 in January. Daily Covid-19 deaths are around 150, taking the UK’s death toll to nearly 143,000, Europe’s second highest behind Russia.
The expansion of the booster program comes as a new study from the UK Health Security Agency showed adults over 50 had at least 93% reduced risk of getting a symptomatic case of Covid-19 two weeks after their booster. Protection is known to drop after four to six months.
The government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, has indicated more restrictions may be necessary if cases start to rise at the same pace as some countries in Europe.
“I think we have got a difficult winter ahead of us,” he added.
More information on the recommendations and where to get the vaccine can be found on the NHS website.
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