Plans for Covid booster jabs 'ramping up' as fears grow about mutant variants

19 April 2021, 19:30 | Updated: 19 April 2021, 19:32

By Will Taylor

Plans for booster vaccine shots are "ramping up" as the Government aims to protect against new variants.

As he announced that travel will largely be banned with India, which has been added to the red list after a new variant was detected there, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said jabs will need to be updated to stay ahead of coronavirus.

He said "the biggest risk" to the UK is alterations to the virus which could stop vaccines working as effectively against it.

The decision has been driven by experience with flu, which requires updated vaccines to tackle mutations, Mr Hancock said.

Read more: UK passes 30 million first doses of Covid-19 vaccine

He told the House of Commons the Government is "ramping up plans for a booster shot to make sure our vaccines stay ahead of the virus".

"We've already procured enough vaccine doses to begin the booster shots later this year," he told MPs on Monday.

Plans for giving out vaccine booster jabs are being ramped up
Plans for giving out vaccine booster jabs are being ramped up. Picture: Pacific Press/SIPA USA/PA Images

"We will be working with our current vaccine suppliers and new suppliers, like the CureVac partnership, to work out which vaccines will be effective as a booster shot and to design new vaccines specifically targeted at the variants of concern - like the variant first found in South Africa.

"Our goal is to ensure the vaccine protects against this dreadful disease, whatever it throws at us, to keep us safe and to protect our much-cherished return to normal way of life."

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Experts worry that as coronavirus spreads, it could mutate into variants that enable it to bypass the protection offered by vaccines and the immune system, or become more transmissible.

The booster plan highlights ministers' determination not to row back on easing restrictions that have partially been allowed to be lifted by the vaccination programme.

Mr Hancock told MPs that uptake has been "astonishingly high", with 94% of over-50s having the jab, and that Friday and Saturday saw a record number of second doses given out, with more than 499,000 completed on both days.

"Enthusiasm among those in their late 40s was so high that when we opened up the booking system last week they briefly overloaded the website," he said.

At least 10 million people have had both their doses, while nearly 33 million people have had at least one.

The Government says it is on track to offer a jab to all adults before the end of July.