A deal to buy enough vaccines to give every adult a fourth dose of protection against covid has been signed by the UK government.
Sajid Javid, the UK Health Secretary, confirmed that deals for 114 million extra doses of Pfizer and Moderna have 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.
The figures involved suggest UK residents could be offered a fourth dose even as they are now being encouraged to get their third booster jab against the new strain of covid.
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”.
The boss of Pfizer said annual vaccinations are likely as the virus mutates to survive and scientists are considering the benefits of offering vaccination to children aged 5 to 11 years old.
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.”
However, Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was unclear whether people will need to get Covid-19 booster shots every year.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s hard to say whether we’ll all need boosters indefinitely – it really does depend on how much further this virus can evolve.
“Just as with flu, the flu virus changes every year and we have to reformulate the vaccine and reimmunise people who are at risk.
“So, that could happen with coronavirus but whether it will require everybody to get boosters every year, well I think that’s really unclear at this point in time.”
The UK's the vaccine deals include 60 million extra doses of the Moderna vaccine and 54 million more Pfizer/BioNTech doses.
That is top of 35 million 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 453.5 million vaccine doses from six firms while it has still not completed its pledge to give 100 million doses to poorer nations by mid-2022, including sub-Saharan Africa where the Omicron variant appeared.
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.”
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