UK’s Johnson pushes booster shots ahead of ‘tidal wave of omicron’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen during a photo op with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during his visit to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
Greg Nash

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday ramped up the United Kingdom’s (U.K.) booster shot initiative ahead of a “tidal wave of omicron,” opening booster shots to all adults and deploying military units to set up additional vaccine sites. 

Johnson’s prerecorded address came hours after U.K. health officials raised the coronavirus alert level due to an increased spread of the new strain.

Johnson said that while it appears that two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will not protect individuals against the new omicron variant, a booster shot will likely “bring our level of protection back up.”

“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,” he said. “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.”

Johnson announced the launch of the omicron emergency booster national mission. He said all adults eligible for a booster shot will be able to get the jab on Monday. Individuals must be over the age of 18 and have received their second dose of the vaccine at least three months earlier.

The new timeline is an acceleration from previous plans. U.K. health officials had aimed to open access to booster shots for all adults by the end of January.

Johnson said the U.K. is “facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, omicron.”

“And we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe,” he added.

He noted that earlier in the day U.K. health officials increased the COVID-19 alert level to four, the second-highest level, because of evidence that omicron coronavirus cases are “doubling here in the U.K. every two to three days.”

Level four is used to describe a situation where there is a high or rising level of transmission, according to the BBC. The last time the U.K. had such a label was in May.

The prime minister on Sunday said the undertaking “will require an extraordinary effort,” adding that some medical appointments will be postponed until the new year so health officials can focus on getting people inoculated with a third shot.

He said 42 military planning teams will be deployed to set up vaccine sites and mobile units and more volunteers will be trained and clinic hours will be extended to help with the ramped-up booster effort.

Johnson said that while the protocols he announced earlier — wearing masks indoors and working from home when possible — are helpful to slow the spread of the omicron variant, “we must go further and get boosted now.”

He also encouraged unvaccinated U.K. residents to go out and get their first shot, noting that it will give them “at least some protection.”

The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa but has since spread to a number of countries, including the U.S. The strain has been found in at least 19 U.S. states thus far.

Health experts are still working to determine the severity of the new variant and whether its evades protection from existing vaccines.

Tags Boris Johnson COVID-19 vaccine booster Omicron variant

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