Covid: All adults to be offered booster jab by end of year as rollout accelerated

Boris Johnson warns of ‘tidal wave’ of omicron variant about to hit UK and pledges a million jabs a day

All adults will be offered Covid booster before New Year

All adults in England will be offered a booster jab by the end of the year, Boris Johnson has announced in what is a sharp acceleration of the vaccination programme.

In a televised address on Sunday night the prime minister warned that the UK was “facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, omicron”.

The PM said he was launching a “national mission” to get everyone jabbed, stating: “No one should be in any doubt: there is a tidal wave of omicron coming.”

Over 1 million people a day will need to be vaccinated to reach the ambitious target – double the 530,000 jabbed on Saturday and exceeding the previous record of 844,000 set in March.

All adults over 18 will become eligible for a jab from Monday, with the devolved nations expected to follow suit.

It comes after scientists advising the government recommended raising the Covid alert level to 4 – meaning there is a “rapidly increasing risk to public”.

“A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January,” Mr Johnson said.

“Today, in light of this omicron emergency, I am bringing that target forward by a whole month. Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the new year.”

Mr Johnson said some other medical appointments would need to be postponed until the new year to make way for the inoculation programme. He also promised to deploy 42 military planning teams across the UK to try and reach the new target – which would require the NHS to exceed its previous record rate of vaccination.

Both the Welsh and Scottish first ministers Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon said more measures may be necessary to stop omicron.

"Given the expected volume of cases in the weeks ahead ... [it] is also possible that further, proportionate protective measures or advice will be necessary," Ms Sturgeon warned.

"This is true even if Omicron proves to be slightly less severe than delta. The number of cases will still put significant pressure on the NHS and the economy. The government will therefore consider the latest data tomorrow [Monday] ahead of a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and I will set out any decisions to parliament later that day.”

Mr Drakeford said: “We are facing a very serious situation and we may need to take further steps to keep Wales safe.”

In a joint statement on Sunday evening the chief medical officers and NHS England said they had recommended to ministers that the alert level go up from level 3 to level 4.

“Transmission of Covid-19 is already high in the community, mainly still driven by delta, but the emergence of omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services,” they said.

“Early evidence shows that omicron is spreading much faster than delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from omicron is reduced. Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but admissions to hospital from omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.

“When vaccine protection is reduced in the way that is happening with omicron it is essential to top-up that protection with a booster. Both booster vaccines [Pfizer and Moderna] increase the immune response substantially and show good effectiveness although with some reduction compared to delta.”

Level 4 is the second highest level in the alert system. According to the government’s scale it means Covid “is in general circulation” and that “transmission is high or rising exponentially”.

It also means that “pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising”.

The UK reported 1,239 additional omicron cases on Sunday, nearly doubling the previous daily high. It takes the total reported number of cases of the new variant to 3,137 in the UK.

Speaking after Mr Johnson’s address, Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader, urged people to “keep our foot on the pedal” with regards to vaccination.

“The vaccine is safe and effective. It protects us and those around us. We will always support the NHS and act in the public interest. Therefore the government has our support in the effort to accelerate the booster programme. It’s also vital that we use the Christmas holidays to get the vaccine out to eligible children,” he said.

“I urge everyone to get boosted as soon as you can – and if you haven’t had your first or second jab yet, now is the time to come forward.”

The prime minister’s announcement comes as he tries to regain control of the political narrative, after a torrid few weeks embroiled in scandals over sleaze, corruption, and alleged breaches of Covid rules at Downing Street.

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