Health Sec warns of 'race against Omicron' as booster jabs offered to all adults

12 December 2021, 20:01 | Updated: 13 December 2021, 09:22

By Will Taylor

The Health Secretary has told LBC the country's booster rollout is in a "race" with the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Sajid Javid said the country had been "thrown off course" by the new strain, and said it needed to "get back on course and start winning" again.

"We are in another race against the virus," he told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

Read more: Health Sec warns some NHS appointments will be dropped to meet tough new booster target

Read more: 'No guarantees': Health Sec refuses to rule out school closures in fight against Omicron

"We must get more booster jabs out there without delay... they were important before, but they have never, ever been so important.

"This is our best way of dealing with this new variant, and please do come forward to protect yourselves, to protect your loved ones and your community."

Boris Johnson opened booster jabs to all adults in England as he warned of a "tidal wave of Omicron coming".

All people aged 18 and over in England will be able to get their booster from Monday provided they had their second dose at least three months ago.

It was only recently announced that it would be open to people aged 30 and over in England from tomorrow.

By the end of the year, all adults can have the chance to get boosted - ahead of the previous goal to hit that target by the end of January.

This makes up the "Omicron Emergency Boost" plan, which Mr Johnson said was a "national mission unlike anything we have seen before in the vaccination programme".

The PM pleaded with Brits to get their booster jab and added that he knew people were asking if Omicron would be less severe than previous variants, but said nobody should be mistaken that it could make them and their loved ones ill.

Mr Johnson, who is under fire over allegations about a Christmas party at Downing Street when London was in coronavirus restrictions, warned in his speech: "No-one should be in any doubt: there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming, and I'm afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need.

"But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up.

"And I know there will be some people watching who will be asking whether Omicron is less severe than previous variants, and whether we really need to go out and get that booster.

"And the answer is yes we do. Do not make the mistake of thinking Omicron can't hurt you, can't make you and your loved ones seriously ill.

"We've already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa.

"And we have patients with Omicron in hospital here in the UK right now."

Although the NHS booking system will not open for younger people until Wednesday, some places will allow for walk-ins from Monday.

Mr Johnson said scientists could not say at this point if Omicron leads to less severe illness.

But it is known it is more transmissible and if it spread through people who aren't boosted, the amount of hospitalisation could "overwhelm our NHS and lead sadly to very many deaths", the PM warned.

"A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January," Mr Johnson went on.

"Today, in light of this Omicron Emergency, I am 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."

Speaking after the PM, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "It's more important than ever to get Britain boosted to protect our NHS and save lives.

"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."

A total of 42 military planning teams will be used for the emergency operation, more vaccine sites and mobile units will be stood up, and clinics will be able to open all week, with more appointments in the morning, evening and at the weekends.

Thousands more volunteer vaccinators will be deployed, and more steps will be revealed in the coming days, Mr Johnson said.

As part of the booster drive, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will get "additional support" to speed up their jab rollouts.

The PM pledged to match the NHS's best day for vaccinations and then "beat it day after day".

He admitted this will "require an extraordinary effort", meaning some appointments will need to be pushed back into 2022.

However, the trade off for not delaying them would lead to even more healthcare disruption next year, the PM said, adding: "If you haven't yet had a vaccine at all, then please get yourself at least some protection with a jab as quickly as possible.

"If you've already had your booster, encourage your friends and family to do the same."

Plan B measures had already been introduced in England, with the Government expanding the use of masks and telling people to use the NHS Covid app or a negative test result to go to certain events and venues.

Experts had warned the Government that without new measures, a wave of Omicron could see somewhere between 25,000 and 75,000 people dead over the next five months.