British Health Secretary says vaccines may be less effective against Omicron variant

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LONDON, Nov 28 (Reuters) – Britain’s health minister Sajid Javid said on Sunday he expected to receive advice imminently on whether the government can broaden a booster shot programme to try to weaken the impact of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant.

Britain announced new measures on Saturday to try to slow the spread of the variant, toughening rules for people arriving in the country and ordering the use of face masks in retail settings and on transport.

But ministers also want to ramp up the offer of booster jabs, saying even if vaccines prove to be less effective against Omicron, they should offer better protection against it and reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths.

“The other thing that still remains hugely important, but I think it’s fair to say now more important than it was before, is our vaccination programme,” Javid told Sky News.

“That is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI (the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to give me very quick advice on broadening, boosting our booster programme, and I expect to get that advice imminently.”

The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” last week by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain has confirmed two cases of the new variant, and Javid said the new measures were needed to buy time for experts to try to understand more about Omicron, which may, or may not, make vaccines less effective.

“There is reason to think that it may, and I stress the word may…, turn out to make our vaccines less effective, it may not, we just don’t know enough,” he said.

“The point is the vaccines are still going to give you more protection than otherwise, that is why the booster programme is so important.”

Javid said on Sunday there might well be more than two cases of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant in Britain, but the government was doing all it could to try to stem its spread.

“There may well be more cases and that is why when we confirmed these two cases yesterday, one in Essex (southeastern England) and one in Nottingham (central England), we immediately went about making sure we have properly traced all their contacts and also we are doing targeted testing in both of those areas and then sequencing of all positive tests,” Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

Photo – Britain’s health minister Sajid Javid. EPA-EFE/GIAN EHRENZELLER

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