UK prepares to expand COVID vaccine boosters amid fears of Omicron
London – The independent body that advises the British government on the introduction of coronavirus vaccines is likely to decide on Monday whether to expand the boosted program to include younger age groups after the discovery of the new alternative to Omicron.
The British government has asked the Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization, or JCVI, to consider the advantages of extending the booster program to millions more people under the age of 40 and reducing the time period to a third stroke.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, told the BBC that it was “really important that we raise the immune levels of the population” in case the omicron variant is more transmissible or protection from vaccines is reduced.
The expected announcement comes after the Scottish government announced that six cases of the omicron variant had been identified in Scotland, bringing the UK’s total to nine.
On Monday, it said it had asked public health authorities to conduct improved contact tracing in all cases.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said not all cases were linked to travel to countries in South Africa, where the new variant was first identified.
“This suggests that there may already be community transmission of this species in Scotland,” she said at a press briefing.
Over the weekend, health authorities detected three such cases in England, prompting the British government to tighten rules around the wearing of masks and the testing of arrivals into the country.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday it was necessary to take “meaningful and precautionary measures” in England.
Other countries in the UK have had stricter rules over the past few months after most lockdown restrictions were lifted. Sturgeon said she and her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, had written to Johnson asking all people arriving in the UK to self-isolate for at least eight days. Johnson said arrivals will need to take a high-level PCR test by the end of their second day in the country and self-isolate to get a negative result.
New rules in England, which will make the wearing of masks mandatory in shops and on public transport, are expected to be reviewed on Tuesday, though not in pubs and restaurants, within three weeks. Secondary school students in England are also advised to wear masks in public areas, such as corridors, but not in classrooms.
Britain also held an urgent meeting of the G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss the alternative. The Group of Seven consists of the leading industrial economies – Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
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