In response to the arrival and spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in the UK, the government is ramping up its vaccine booster program and has set the target of vaccinating a million people a day by New Year’s Eve to try and protect the public against the virus.
In a TV address broadcast December 12, the prime minister warned against a “tidal wave” of coronavirus cases brought on by the Omicron variant, and encouraged people to get boosters – or a first jab, for those unvaccinated – over the coming weeks.
Around 50 military planning teams will be stationed across the country along with thousands of volunteers in the effort to roll out booster shots, which is hoped to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and avoid another lockdown.
The measures come following the discovery of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus, which has been labelled a variant of concern due to its alarming mutations and preliminary testing “suggest[ing] an increased risk of reinfection”.
What are the effects of the booster jab?
The clue is in the name: the booster jabs offer a “boost” to the body’s ability to fight off coronavirus, should it be caught – early research shows that having three doses offers 93 per cent protection against symptomatic disease.
With the extra protection offered by the booster, it is expected that fewer people will need to be hospitalised over the winter period – therefore reducing pressure on an already strained NHS.
Those receiving boosters will be given either a full dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab or a half dose of the Moderna vaccine.
“If the booster programme is a success and we have very high uptake, we can massively reduce worry about hospitalisation and death this Christmas and this winter for millions of people,” said deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam.
Early testing suggests that the Omicron variant has a higher reinfection rate – but experts say it will be a few weeks before we know what its true effect on vaccines will be.
Van-Tam said: “If vaccine effectiveness is reduced – as seems pretty likely, to some extent – the biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections and, hopefully, there will be smaller effects in preventing severe disease.
“Vaccine boosting is the thing we can do most easily while we wait for that science mist to clear.”
Should I book my booster jab?
If you are eligible for a booster jab, you should get it.
Though the initial doses of all the main vaccine candidates in the UK offer good protection against serious illness and death, there is evidence to suggest vaccine efficacy wanes over time, therefore necessitating the need for top-up booster shots.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency identified “no new safety concerns” around booster jabs. Known side-effects are similar to those of the original jabs, with cases mostly being a sore arm or mild flu-like symptoms.
Getting a booster is also quite easy: you can either wait to be contacted by the NHS to make an appointment, or you can book one online in certain places. Both England and Scotland have online booking portals; appointments for those in Northern Ireland are available in pharmacies, while people in Wales eligible for a booster have been told to wait to be contacted for an appointment.
Why is it important to book a booster jab?
Like last year, colder temperatures combined with social mixing indoors will inevitably lead to a rise in Covid-19 cases – and this winter, there are also concerns about the impact of seasonal flu.
A mass take-up of booster jabs, particularly among older and more vulnerable people, will offer greater protection against severe illness and death, therefore reducing pressure on the NHS.
If cases are low and the health service is able to deal with those who are ill, then it is unlikely that harsher coronavirus restrictions will need to be imposed on the country, highlighting the importance of boosters.
“This is a national mission,” said Javid in a statement on 15 November. “The vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones, and I urge everybody to get your jabs as soon as you can.”