Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed deals for millions of extra doses of Pfizer and Moderna had been accelerated – and will ‘future proof’ the UK rollout
Brits look set to get a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine after the UK signed deals for 114 million additional jab doses lasting up to 2023.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed deals for 114million extra doses of Pfizer and Moderna had been accelerated in light of fears over the new Omicron variant.
The new deals for 2022 and 2023 include access to modified vaccines if existing jabs are found to be less effective against the worrying new strain.
That appears to suggest Brits could be offered a fourth dose, given the supply would be more than enough to do so.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the buy-up will “ensure we can protect even more people in the years ahead” and “future proof the Great British vaccination effort”.
And the head of Pfizer today said annual vaccinations are likely. Dr Albert Bourla told the BBC : “Based on everything I have seen so far, I would say that annual vaccinations… are likely to be needed to maintain a very robust and very high level of protection.”
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The government said the deals include 60 million extra doses of the Moderna vaccine and 54 million more Pfizer/BioNTech doses.
That is top of 35million Pfizer doses due in the second half of next year, and 60 million Novavax and 7.5 million GSK/Sanofi doses expected in 2022.
It means the UK government has now secured early access to 453.5million vaccine doses from six firms.
The UK has still not completed its pledge to give 100million doses to poorer nations by mid-2022, including sub-Saharan Africa where the Omicron variant appeared.
Minister George Freeman defended the buy-up, telling Sky News “it’s a balance” and adding: “The British public would expect us to make sure we’re providing the supply in the UK”.
But Prof Andrew Pollard of the Oxford Vaccine Group said: “As we approach the moment when 8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines will have been administered worldwide, it is scandalous that such a small proportion have been administered in low-income countries.”
Pfizer boss Dr Bourla also backed the idea of vaccinating children aged 5 to 11, telling the BBC: “Covid in schools is thriving.
“This is disturbing, significantly, the educational system, and there are kids that will have severe symptoms.
“So there is no doubt in my mind that the benefits, completely, are in favour of doing it.”
Boris Johnson has imposed new restrictions to buy time for scientists to establish whether the Omicron variant is able to evade existing vaccines.
The strain, which was first detected in South Africa and has spread to the UK and a number of countries, is believed to be more infectious than the dominant Delta variant.
Masks are now mandatory again in shops and on public transport, with all international arrivals told to take a PCR test and isolate until they get a negative results.
Contacts of Omicron cases will be forced to isolate for 10 days – regardless of their vaccination status.
All eligible adults in the UK will also be offered a booster jab by the end of January to boost immunity levels, the PM has pledged.
But Mr Johnson’s new target – which also sees the minimum gap from second dose to booster slashed to three months – will force NHS chiefs to significantly speed up the programme.
Roughly 46.3 million people have had a second dose so far, while 17.9million have had a booster.
This leaves some 28.4 million people in need of a booster by the end of January.
Mr Javid said: “Thanks to the Vaccines Taskforce, we have an excellent track record of securing the vaccines the country needs to keep this virus at bay.
“These new deals will future proof the Great British vaccination effort – which has so far delivered more than 115 million first, second and booster jabs across the UK – and will ensure we can protect even more people in the years ahead.
“This is a national mission and our best weapon to deal with this virus and its variants is to get jabs in arms – so when you are called forward, get the jab and get boosted.”
People are being urged to wait until they are contacted to get their booster as the NHS calls in the army and volunteers to speed up the rollout.
Previously only the over-40s and people with certain health conditions were being offered a third dose – but the rollout has now been expanded to all over-18s.
The priority list will move down in five-year age bands.
NHS England is due to write to vaccination centres to ask them to invite all over-40s by December 13, according to The Times.
The Prime Minister, 57, is expected to get his own booster jab on Thursday.
His spokesman said the party chief has also been using lateral flow tests “multiple times a week”.
The orders come on top of the 35 million additional Pfizer doses ordered in August for delivery in the second half of next year, and the 60 million Novavax and 7.5 million GSK/Sanofi doses expected in 2022.