Boris Johnson has brought forward the target of giving every adult in England a booster jab by a month amid mounting concerns over a wave of Omicron cases that could cause “very many deaths”.
In a pre-recorded address to the nation tonight (12 December), the Prime Minister said that Britain “must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” and called on everyone to “get boosted now”.
The Prime Minister said that all eligible adults will be offered a booster vaccination by the end of December. The previous target for this was the end of January.
The effort to administer millions of jabs by 31 December will involve 42 military planning teams deployed across every health region, extra vaccine sites and mobile units.
It will also see extended clinic opening hours to allow people to be jabbed around the clock and at weekends, and the training of thousands more volunteer vaccinators.
The acceleration of the booster rollout is in response to concerns over a projected wave of Omicron cases, which could lead to thousands of deaths and more pressure on the NHS.
The announcement comes as the UK Covid alert level was raised to Level 4, up from Level 3, following a rapid increase in the number of Omicron cases being recorded.
What did Boris Johnson say?
The Prime Minister said: “We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron here in the UK right now.
“At this point our scientists cannot say that Omicron is less severe.
“And even if that proved to be true we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS and lead sadly to very many deaths.
“So we must act now. Today we are launching the Omicron emergency booster national mission, unlike anything we’ve done before in the vaccination programme, to get boosted now.
“A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January. Today in light of this Omicron emergency I’m 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.”
The Prime Minister said the UK Government would support the devolved administrations to “accelerate” their own rollouts of third jabs.
He revealed that the decision to speed up the jab rate would mean some NHS appointments would need to be postponed until the new year, arguing there would be “even greater” cancellations if the Omicron wave was allowed to rise.
In a plea to GPs, doctors, nurses and others on the NHS frontline who he said had “worked incredibly hard” throughout the pandemic, he said: “I must ask you to make another extraordinary effort now, so we can protect you, and your colleagues, and above all protect your patients from even greater pressures next year.”
What did Keir Starmer say?
Sir Keir Starmer said the Government had Labour’s support to accelerate the booster programme, as he urged the public to “protect our families, friends and the NHS” by getting a top-up jab amid fears over the Omicron variant.
The Labour leader said: “The arrival of the worrying new variant is a reminder that the pandemic is not over. And vaccines are the best weapon in our fight.
“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.”
How has Nicola Sturgeon responded?
Scotland will aim to offer booster jabs to all eligible adults by the end of the year but more restrictions may still be needed to combat Omicron, Nicola Sturgeon said.
In a statement following Mr Johnson’s address to the nation, Scotland’s First Minister said urgent work is under way to “further accelerate rollout of the booster vaccination programme in Scotland”.
She said her government’s aim is to offer a “booster jag appointment to all eligible adults by the end of this year if possible”, with 30-39 year olds able to book from 10am on Monday and 18-29 year olds from later in the week.
The First Minister added: “Given the expected volume of cases in the weeks ahead, however, it is also possible that further, proportionate protective measures or advice will be necessary."
Who is eligible for the booster now?
Every adult over 18 in England who has had a second dose of a vaccine at least three months ago will be able to have their booster from Monday, the Prime Minister said.
The NHS booking system will be open for those under the age of 30 from Wednesday but “in some cases you can walk in from tomorrow”.
The UK, as of Sunday, recorded a further 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron mutation, bringing the total number of cases to 3,137 – a 65% increase from Saturday’s total of 1,898.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the actual number was likely to be 10 times as high.
Earlier on Sunday, it was announced that fully-vaccinated people who are identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19 in England will have to take a daily rapid test for seven days from Tuesday.
This article was originally published on our sister title, NationalWorld