Millions anxiously await booster vaccines in the UK
The operation to roll out COVID booster shots to all adults in the U.K. is struggling to pick up speed even as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.
Fewer U.K. adults received a third shot of vaccine on Saturday than they did seven days earlier, on Nov. 27, the day when Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an increase in the pace of the rollout.
Speaking on Tuesday, Johnson said that the nation’s program was “the fastest in Europe”, and that the U.K. had “done more boosters than any comparable country.” The current six-month wait between second and third shots is set to be slashed in half next week in a bid accelerate the program, Johnson said.
Britons aged between 40 and 49 currently have to wait until six months after their second dose to book a booster shot. Johnson was bullish on the impact of allowing that age group, consisting of 7 million people, to book appointments sooner.
“That will lead to a big uptick in the program,” Johnson told broadcasters.
Johnson on Tuesday told his cabinet that it’s still “too early” to draw conclusions on the new omicron variant, but said that “early indications were that it was more transmissible than Delta,” according to a readout of the meeting from his office.
The U.K.’s Health Security Agency said Tuesday that it had detected 101 extra omicron cases over the past 24 hours, taking the total to 437.
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London who advises the U.K. government, told the Times newspaper that omicron infections may be doubling every three days, or even faster.
Regulators authorized booster shots for 18-39-year-olds last month, when the government said that they would be made available to all adults by the end of January. Those aged between 30 and 39 should be invited before Christmas, and 18-29-year-olds in January, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who didn’t want to be identified because the timings haven’t been shared publicly.
A spokesperson for the NHS said 99 million doses have been delivered in the vaccination campaign so far, including more than 17 million top-ups in England.
The debate over the speed of the U.K.’s rollout comes as data show it is ahead of many other countries with its booster drive. The U.K. has already delivered 30 booster doses per 100 people, more than double the proportion in the U.S. and the European Union, according to Our World in Data.
Data show that 464,616 boosters were administered on Dec. 4, down from 465,111 the Saturday before. While the weekly figure rose slightly to 2.68 million from 2.56 million, there is still some way to go to meet the U.K. target of 3.5 million shots per week.
Johnson has said the U.K. government will wait for guidance on the omicron strain ahead of a review of pandemic rules next week. Until then, the prime minister has given Britons the green light to go ahead with festive events such as staff Christmas parties.
The U.K. reported 51,459 cases of Covid-19 on Monday, up from 30,305 a month earlier.