Booster jabs could be offered to all those over 18 in efforts to cut the gap between the third dose as part of measures to reduce the spread of the new Omicron variant.
According to Whitehall sources, as reported by many major news outlets today, including BBC News and Sky News, experts on the UK’s government’s vaccine advisory body – the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – are due to make a decision on offering booster jabs to all over-18s and cutting the gap before a third dose as early as today.
The group are also considering whether second doses should be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds, who currently are only entitled to one.
JCVI deputy chairman Professor Anthony Harnden said extending the age range for the booster jab rollout, and reducing the gap between second and third doses, was “a sensible strategy”.
Currently, booster jabs have been restricted to those aged 40 and over, frontline health or social care workers, and those with health issues – but Professor Harnden told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme on Sunday that there was a “strong argument” for extending boosters to all adults.
“Accelerating the booster programme both by extending the age range and by reducing the interval between the second dose and the booster dose would be a sensible strategy,” he said.
When asked in the interview whether everyone over 18 should expect an invitation to get a booster jab, Professor Harnden responded that the offer would come “earlier than we have previously envisaged”.
The expansion of the vaccination programme is just one part of a host of measures aimed at preventing the spread of the Omicron variant – first discovered in South Africa – of which there have been three cases detected in the UK, and, as announced this morning, six cases detected in Scotland.
Dr Jenny Harries – the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency – also acknowledged that it was “very likely” that further cases of Omicron would be discovered in the coming days.
The statements come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a Downing Street news conference on Saturday evening, alongside Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, in which a number of new measures were announced.
Measures taking effect from 4am tomorrow:
Everyone entering the UK – other than those coming from the Common Travel Area that covers the Channel Islands and Ireland – will have to take a PCR test by the end of the second full day after their arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of whether or not they are fully vaccinated.
Face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops – but pubs and restaurants will remain exempt.
The variant has prompted the UK to place ten African countries on the red list – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.
Featured Image – Parliament TV | Flickr
Amber heat-health warning issued as temperatures drop across the North West
An amber health warning has been issued for the North West and other regions as temperatures continue to drop across the country.
With temperatures expected to reach as low as -5C by Friday, 29 November, the Met Office and UKHSA pushed out an amber heat-health alert on Wednesday, with the elderly, clinically vulnerable and the health sector in general said to be those most at risk.
Although the freezing weather obviously has the potential to affect everyone — with the likes of the North East and Northern Ireland having already been given a yellow weather warning as well — amber heat-health warnings are deemed to require an ‘enhanced response‘ as they are likely to significantly impact “across the whole health service” and possibly other sectors too.
Under the relatively new CHA (cold-health alert) system, anything beyond a yellow level alert means that it is expected that there will be increased use of healthcare services by vulnerable populations and an increase in risk to health to individuals over the age of 65, those with pre-existing health conditions, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and other vulnerable groups like rough sleepers.
As well as the Met Office offering their verdict, the UKHSA’s Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection, Dr Agostinho Sousa, said: “With a risk of widespread overnight frosts and some snow across the country this week, it’s important to check in on the wellbeing of those most vulnerable to the cold.
“Cold weather can have a serious impact on health, particularly older people, and those with pre-existing health conditions, as it increases the risks of heart attacks, strokes and chest infections.
“If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over the age of 65, it is important to try and heat the rooms where you spend most of your time in[doors], such as your living room or bedroom.”
For those considered to be at risk during this cold snap and amber-heat health warning, the official government-sanctioned advice is that if you can’t heat all the rooms in your home, it is important to heat the rooms you spend the (i.e. living room in the day and bedroom before going to sleep) to at least 18 degrees if possible.
They also recommend wearing a few thin layers instead of one thick layer, as the former is better at trapping heat than just one big jumper etc.
Other advice on how to stay safe during these colder periods includes stocking up on food and medicine, keeping windows closed and reducing draughts at home, as well as getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, you can get in touch with the NHS on 111 and if it is an emergency please call 999 immediately.
Man jailed for raping and assaulting two women as they slept
A man has been jailed after being convicted of raping and sexually assaulting two women while they were sleeping.
Alan Pickering, 40, from Wirral, has been sentenced to 15 years behind bars as well as four years on an extended license.
During the trial at Liverpool Crown Court, the court heard that his victims had woken up to find that Pickering was raping them, with neither giving their consent.
Both victims then repeatedly asked him to stop, but he continued to assault them.
His crimes took place between January 2004 and July 2020 on ‘multiple occasions’ in the Chester and Wirral areas.
Pickering, of Procter Road in Rock Ferry, had previously been found guilty of five counts of rape and three counts of sexual assault by penetration following an earlier trial.
The latest allegations against the man came to light in 2020 after a report was made to social services at Cheshire West and Chester, which was passed on to Cheshire Police.
In addition to his prison sentence, Pickering has also been ordered to sign the sex offenders register for life, and handed indefinite restraining orders against the victims.
Following the sentencing, Detective Constable Peel, who led the investigation, said: “Firstly I would like to commend the victims for the courage and bravery that they have shown throughout this case.
“I know that Pickering’s offending has had a hugely traumatic impact on the victims and having to give evidence during the trial was not easy for them.
“But thanks to the statements they gave, and the evidence we gathered, the jury we’re able to see through his lies and he is now finally being held accountable for his actions.”
Detective Constable Peel added: “Nobody should have to experience what these women have been though and if anything can be achieved from this case, I hope that it encourages other victims of sexual offences to come forward and report them to us.
“We treat all reports extremely seriously, and any allegation will be thoroughly investigated, with the wishes and needs of the victim as our main priority.
“Victims should never feel ashamed to talk about what they have been subjected to. They will receive the help and support they need from our specialist officers, as well as from other support agencies we work alongside, and all victims of sexual offences have the right to anonymity.”