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UK to expand COVID vaccine recalls amid omicron fears

LONDON (AP) – Britain is expanding its COVID-19 booster vaccine program to millions more as part of efforts to tackle the spread of the newer variant of omicron, which is believed to be more contagious and vaccine resistant.

The UK government said on Monday it would fully accept the revised recommendations from the independent body of scientists that advised it, the main one of which is that anyone between the ages of 18 and 39 should be offered a booster. So far, only people over the age of 40 as well as those deemed particularly vulnerable to the virus were eligible.

The change in advice means that around 13 million more people will be eligible for the vaccine. The UK has so far given around 17.5 million recalls.

In addition to expanding the rollout to the age group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization also said that booster doses for all age groups should be given no earlier than three months after a second dose. This reduces the current wait by three months.

In another tip, the JCVI said young people between the ages of 12 and 15 should be offered a second dose of Pfizer vaccine, no earlier than 12 weeks after their first.

“With this new variant on the offensive, these measures will protect more people faster and protect us better as a nation,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers as he accepted the new advice.

The major overhaul of the recall rollout comes after six more cases were reported in Scotland and two in England. This brings the UK total to 11.

Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said all cases identified in Scotland were not linked to travel to countries in southern Africa, suggesting “some community transmission”.

The spread of the omicron variant, which has many more mutations than previous strains, has raised fears that the coronavirus pandemic will find new legs in the coming months. It will take a few weeks for scientists to better understand how the new variant spreads.

“We always said we would get a variant which worries us more,” said England deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam. “We are at that point with omicron. He’s the new kid on the block for the moment.

Already, the British government has tightened the rules on wearing masks and testing arrivals in the country. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that it was necessary to take “targeted and precautionary measures” in England.

The rest of the UK have put stricter rules in place in recent months after most lockdown restrictions were lifted. Sturgeon said she and her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, wrote to Johnson asking everyone arriving in the UK to self-isolate for at least eight days. Johnson said newcomers will need to take a high-quality PCR test before the end of their second day in the country and self-isolate until they test negative.

The new rules for England, which will see the wearing of masks mandatory in shops and public transport on Tuesday, but not in pubs and restaurants, are expected to be reviewed in three weeks. High school students in England are also advised to wear masks in common areas, such as hallways, but not in classrooms.

Van-Tam urged people to take the boosters and expressed hope that the vaccines will continue to contain serious illnesses even if they reduce the impact on infections.

“I’m asking people not to panic, but I’m not asking them to ignore the weather forecast altogether,” he said.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

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