The UK announced Tuesday that it would offer a third dose of coronavirus vaccine to anyone over 50 and others in need of protection to help the country weather the pandemic over the winter months.
The booster, which will be introduced next week, was approved a day after the Conservative government also backed plans to offer a dose of vaccine to children ages 12-15.
The Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee, which advises the government, recommended that everyone over 50, healthcare workers, people with pre-existing conditions and people with weakened immune systems should be given a booster vaccination. They will be given at least six months after receiving the second dose of the vaccine.
About 30 million people will be eligible for the booster vaccination, which aims to protect against a modest decrease in immunity among those who have received two vaccinations.
“The result of this vaccination campaign is that we have one of the freest societies and one of the most open economies in Europe,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “That is why we are now sticking to our strategy.”
Although the number of people who are now infected with Covid-19 is much higher than it was at that time last year – over 30,000 new infections per day – the UK government has chosen not to reintroduce any further virus restrictions in England as the This year’s vaccine campaign has reduced the number of people who have to be treated for Covid and subsequently die.
However, Johnson said the government stands ready to reinstate action in the coming weeks and months if pressures on hospitals become acute. The number of people living with Covid in UK hospitals is around 8,500, well below the nearly 40,000 hospitalized earlier this year during a catastrophic second wave of the pandemic.
Measures held in reserve include compulsory mask wear, vaccine certifications for nightclubs and other major events but not pubs, and an obligation to work from home.
“When you have a big stake with immunity, like now, smaller changes can make a bigger difference and give us confidence that we don’t have to go back to the locks of the past,” said Johnson. “In the meantime, we trust the vaccines that have changed our lives so much.”
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The JCVI said the Pfizer vaccine should be the first choice for booster shots, with half a dose of Moderna as an alternative. These messenger RNA vaccines are said to be more effective as a booster. The AstraZeneca vaccine, based on a different technology, is offered to anyone who cannot receive an mRNA vaccine for clinical reasons.
The decision to offer booster vaccinations is not recommended by the World Health Organization, which has asked wealthy nations to postpone the issue until each country has vaccinated at least 40 percent of its population. Few other wealthy countries have recommended its use. In the United States, the FDA will be publicly debating booster vaccinations later this week.
England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said it was hugely important that developing countries get the vaccinations they needed, but pointed out the difficulties in shipping the Pfizer vaccine, which has a relatively short shelf life and must be kept in supercooled temperatures.
Whitty appealed to anyone eligible for a vaccine to get one as soon as possible, saying there was a “very much lower” risk of being hospitalized with Covid if someone was vaccinated compared to to those who are not. He said that someone in their thirties who isn’t vaccinated is at the same risk as someone in their 70s who is vaccinated.
“One of the most depressing things for doctors, including me, is talking to people who have just decided not to get vaccinated because it wasn’t convenient at the time. And you see them being taken to the intensive care unit and you know that this was a very serious problem because they weren’t vaccinated, “he said.
Whitty also targeted those who spread misinformation about the vaccines after being asked for comments from rapper Nicki Minaj. The singer stated in a series of tweets that she may have contracted Covid but said she would not be pressured to get a vaccination for the Met Gala, which she was not attending. She tweeted Monday that guests had to be stung at the New York event and also shared an unsubstantiated story about vaccine risks and impotence.
“There are a number of myths floating around, some of which are just plain ridiculous and some of which are clearly only intended to be scary,” Whitty said. “That happens to be one of them. That is not true.”
Whitty said people who “peddle untruths” to prevent others from getting the vaccine should “feel ashamed”.