Ministers are aiming for a return to half a million Covid jabs in the UK per day as the wait time for boosters has been reduced to three months in a bid to overtake the Omicron variant which scientists say will be is already spreading in the community.
Confirmed cases of Omicron jumped to 11 in England and Scotland on Monday, with science advisers preparing to detect hundreds more over the next week.
The NHS is expected to confirm an extension of the vaccination schedule this week after government advisers said all adults should be offered boosters and made the surprise recommendation of a wait of three rather than six months after a second dose .
A high-ranking government source told The Guardian ministers are aiming for a “significant acceleration” from current recalls from 2.4 million per week to around 3.5 million or 500,000 per day – a return to the huge national effort observed at the start of the vaccination campaign. “This is the foreground, but it won’t happen overnight,” they said.
Currently, boosters have been limited to those over 40 for more than six months since their last jab. The first new cohort of people who will be offered booster shots will likely be those over 40 and clinically vulnerable people who are older than three but less than six months after their second jab. The next brackets will be reserved for those under 40 in age brackets staggered from the oldest to the youngest. Children aged 12 to 15 will be offered second doses for the first time, and people with severe immunosuppression will receive boosters in addition to the three primary doses.
The largest group of unvaccinated remain those under 12. Dr June Raine, chief executive officer of the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said this was “very carefully evaluated” and that the agency should report before Christmas on the safety of vaccines for children aged 5 to 11. It is also expected to be approved by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) before a final decision is made by government ministers.
While the threat of the Omicron variant prompted the JCVI to speed up the deployment of jabs, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said people needed to “improve their game” in terms of getting boosters.
But he added: “I don’t want people to panic at this point. If the vaccine’s effectiveness is reduced [with Omicron], as seems quite likely to some extent, the most important effects will probably be the prevention of infections, and hopefully the lesser effects in the prevention of serious illness. “
JCVI President Prof Wei Shen Lim said Moderna or Pfizer boosters would increase people’s immune response and reducing the time between doses could help alleviate any decline in vaccine protection before another starts. wave.
The planned expansion of the recall program means another 13 million under the age of 40 will become eligible for a third jab in the coming weeks. The NHS currently administers 350,000 daily reminders, or about 2.4 million per week, and is expected to increase to 500,000 per day to reach 3.5 million per week.
An NHS source said there were 2,200 active vaccination centers, meaning that on average each site would need to vaccinate 70 more Britons per day to reach 3.5 million boosters per week. Sources said it was easier to extend hours of operation than to open new centers, which opens the prospect of a more “24-hour” offer.