The COVID-19 booster vaccination program should be extended

Covid-19 booster vaccination programs are expected to be expanded as more cases of the Omicron variant are confirmed.

Professor Anthony Harnden, vice-chairman of the Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization (JCVI), said experts have considered extending the boosters to those under 40 and whether the time interval between the second and the third dose of the vaccine should be reduced.

A decision is expected to be announced on Monday afternoon, along with an urgent meeting of health ministers from the G7 group of countries to discuss the new Omicron variant.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), preliminary evidence suggests that Omicron carries a higher risk of reinfection although it is not yet clear to what extent it is transmissible or if it may escape protection. vaccine.

The UK now has nine confirmed cases of the variant after the Scottish government announced Monday morning that it had discovered four cases in Lanarkshire and two in the greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

Another case was identified in Brentwood, Essex, with another in Nottingham, while a third case was detected in England on Sunday in a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster before leaving the country.

Scottish Deputy Premier John Swinney said some of the Omicron variant cases identified in Scotland had no travel history, suggesting there is some degree of community transmission.

Meanwhile, in Essex, where a case has been discovered, students at one school are being tested for the variant as part of a targeted campaign to identify close contacts.

From Tuesday, wearing face masks is expected to be mandatory in shops and on public transport, while PCR testing will be brought back for travelers returning to the UK.

Asked on BBC Breakfast about the six new cases discovered in Scotland, Professor Harnden said:

“I think it’s almost inevitable that we’re going to see a lot, a lot more cases than we’ve seen before.

“The key question is whether this virus has a transmission advantage over the Delta, which is the prevalent virus right now.

“Vaccines can do the heavy lifting, but they can’t do all the lifting and social distancing measures – that is, wearing face masks, distancing, ventilating … and measures like that. – there – are also important.

“So I think we will see more of these measures and I know the government has already announced face masks on public transport and that could be extended, but we will just have to wait and see if this Omicron virus takes a big place in this country and how much of a problem.

Credit: (Stefan Rousseau / PA)

“This is obviously a worrying development, but I don’t think anyone needs to panic. What they need to do, however, is get vaccinated.

Elsewhere, Health Minister Edward Argar has defended government action so far to limit the spread of the variant, adding that he did not expect further restrictions as Christmas approaches.

When asked if the government could tighten the rules further over the next three weeks, Mr Argar told Sky News:

“It’s not something I anticipate.”

He argued that the government had taken swift action on the new variant of the coronavirus, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today show: “I think we’re very at the forefront with this.

“This virus has a bad habit of surprising us, we know that. But we also need to keep a sense of proportion and keep a cool and calm head as we do this scientific work to understand what may or may not be needed in the future. “

On whether the government should switch to its Plan B, Mr Argar said: ‘Under the current circumstances, we don’t see that it is necessary at this point as there is no evidence yet that the vaccine is ineffective against this new variant. “

He added: “I don’t think we are yet able to understand the impact on vaccines and on hospitalizations and therefore, rather than automatically going to what some will ask, namely very, very onerous restrictions. , or whatever others will ask for. , which is nothing at all and let’s wait and see, we’ve found, I think, a reasonable and proportionate balance in the middle, moving quickly to put in place measures to slow it down while we get the hang of it. And that should hopefully only take a few weeks. “

Labor Deputy Chief Angela Rayner (Gareth Fuller / PA)

However, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party Angela Rayner said people should wear face coverings in indoor reception areas, a suggestion backed by the British Medical Association (BMA).

She told Sky News:

“We believe that in hotels, people should wear a mask. I took the train here last night and it was absolutely hit, you couldn’t even get up, it was so full, and no one, very few people, wore a mask on that train.

“It’s so important that people wear masks when they’re indoors, in arenas where they meet people and… mingle in large numbers. People should wear their masks. “

On wearing masks in pubs, she said: “I think people should… especially if you go around the pub, people should wear their masks in hospitality establishments. If you are (in) an indoor environment, there is no distinction between a pub, sitting in a pub, or sitting on a train, or sitting in a hospital.

“It’s still a place indoors and we should take the necessary steps to protect the people around us.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the board of the BMA, also called for more mask wearing.

He told Good Morning Britain:

“What we believe is that there should be a mask wearing in all enclosed and indoor environments.

“Now clearly this does not apply to people who eat in restaurants, but it should apply to staff, for example, in restaurants and bars, so that when you are close to a customer, when you are in a direct line with a client, maybe a few feet away, and you may be speaking loudly, you are reducing the risk of infecting others.

“It’s not just about the public, it’s also about staff and employers, because if they have infected staff, sick and self-isolating staff, it will also affect the economy.

“So there is a reason to do it for both clients and employers. “

Meanwhile, Professor Sir Mark Walport, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advising the government, told Sky News there were “good reasons for concern” about Omicron.

He said it “makes sense to try to hold it back” although it is “impossible to prevent it from spreading around the world if it is much more contagious than the Delta variant.”

Sir Mark said the most important thing people in the UK can do is get vaccinated and take measures such as wearing masks.

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