Top scientists advising Boris Johnson’s government are set to unveil new guidance on extending the rollout of Covid booster shots to younger adults on Monday, a health minister has said.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has been asked to consider boosters for under-40s, as well as reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.
“We’re awaiting that advice. I hope it will come, hopefully later today,” junior health minister Edward Argar told Sky News on Monday.
On the recommended changes, aimed at limiting the spread of the Omicron variant, he added: “I don’t think [advice] has been formally delivered, but we’d expect that within the coming hours.”
It comes as the Scottish government announced that six cases of the Omicron variant have been identified north of the border, with four of the cases in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.
Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the (JCVI), has said it would be “sensible” for over-18s in the UK will receive their booster jabs “earlier” than originally planned.
The expert described the acceleration of the booster programme – both by extending the age range and by reducing the interval between the second dose and the booster dose – as a “sensible strategy”. The JCVI is also considering whether second doses should be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds.
A third Omicron case was detected in England on Sunday, in a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster before leaving the country. It is thought the individual visited the London borough and not parliament.
The first two infections were identified in Nottingham and Essex, where officials were ordering PCR tests for customers of a KFC in Brentwood as far back as 19 November.
Prof Adam Finn, also a member of the JCVI advisory body, was asked about the possibility that the interval between the second and third dose could be reduced from six months to five.
He said the scientists are concerned that antibodies offered by existing vaccines might have “reduced efficiency” as a result of the variant. “That would be the reason one would consider giving boosters sooner or giving them to more people,” he told the Today programme.
Masks will become compulsory again on public transport and in shops from Tuesday. And teachers and pupils in Year 7 and above are now being “strongly advised” to wear masks in communal areas outside classrooms in England.
Close contacts of Omicron variant cases must isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated, the government has announced. Conservative MP Steve Baker has warned that it could “chaos” in schools again if thousands of pupils are sent home to isolate.
Health secretary Sajid Javid insisted on Sunday that it was “nowhere near” time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance.
Mr Argar said he was not anticipating that Covid restrictions would be tightened further in the run up to Christmas, following a change in rules this week. The health minister told Sky News he was “looking forward to a Christmas spent with family and friends”.
Asked if the government might tighten up the rules even further in the next three weeks, Mr Argar said: “It’s not something I’m anticipating.”
Mr Argar also said “people will make their own judgements” on whether they should wear a face covering in pubs or restaurants, after rules are tightened in shops and public transport.
Mr Javid will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss the variant first detected in South Africa amid concerns it could partially evade existing jabs.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said on Monday that the Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where Covid surges could have “severe consequences” in some areas.