The time between COVID booster vaccinations should be shortened to three months and recipient eligibility expanded, according to recommendations by the government’s vaccine advisors.
A press briefing on Monday revealed the new measures as concerns increase around the new Omicron variant.
If approved by government, it will mean those aged 18-39 will be offered a booster after just three months instead of the previous six. It will be prioritised by the risk to the patient.
Some people who are severely immune-suppressed could even receive a fourth dose of the vaccine — again no less than three months from their previous.
Under the changes, children aged 12-15 will also be able to get their second vaccine dose three months after their first.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said: “We’ve known from outset of pandemic, variants have been inevitable.”
He said Omicron was of increased concern but added there was “far more we don’t know about Omicron yet than we do know”.
He told those present there were many mutations with some already causing “worry about a possible effect on vaccine effectiveness”.
However, he added: “This is not all doom and gloom at this stage and I do not want people to panic at this stage.”
Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare product Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said there was no evidence that existing vaccines “do not work”, however, added “We are making this issue a priority.”
Professor Wei Shen Lim, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said advisors wanted to get ahead of any new wave of the variant.
“If we deploy a vaccine in the middle of a wave or after the peak, then the benefit from the vaccine is much lower,” he said.
“We want to provide boosters early enough such that it is before any possible wave.”
In a subsequent statement to the House of Commons, Health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs the UK was entering winter in a “strong position”.
However, he said: “We expect cases to rise over the coming days.
“In this race between the vaccines and the virus the new variant may have given the virus extra legs.”
At the weekend, the government announced new measures to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant, including making masks mandatory in shops and on public transport, and adding several countries to the UK’s Travel Red List.
Due to problems with the heating, the Boston Mass Vaccination Centre at PRSA (Princess Royal Sports Arena) had to close the site early today.