September 28. 2021. 4:46

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Britain to roll out booster vaccines to over-50s as part of winter Covid plan

UK prime minister Boris Johnson abandoned a plan to introduce vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and mass events from the end of this month. Photograph: Richard Pohle/The Times/PA Wire

Britain will start rolling out booster coronavirus vaccines next week in an effort to keep case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths under control as winter approaches.

Everyone over-50 will be eligible for a booster shot, along with younger adults with underlying health conditions and frontline health and care workers.

The programme is the centrepiece of a plan to limit the spread of the virus, which also includes the vaccination of children aged 12 to 15 and a campaign to encourage those not yet vaccinated to come forward. People who are infected with the virus will continue to be required to self-isolate and some testing requirements for international travel will remain in place.

Prime minister Boris Johnson told a press conference in Downing Street that if these measures, which he described as Plan A, are not effective in keeping the virus under control, his government will move to Plan B, which could include the introduction of vaccine passports.

“It is just not sensible to rule out completely this kind of option no-win we must face the fact that it might still make the difference between keeping businesses open at full capacity or not,” he said.

“We will also keep open the option of mandating face coverings as they have elsewhere or advising people again to work from home reflecting the fact that when you’ve got a large proportion of the country as we have now with immunity, then smaller changes can make a bigger difference and give us the confidence that we don’t need to go back to the lockdowns of the past.”

Mr Johnson this week abandoned a plan to introduce vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and mass events from the end of this month. But chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said experience showed that it was necessary to move quickly if case numbers started to rise.

“If you look at, across the channel, countries where you’ve got similar levels of immunity and some higher degrees of restriction, what you can see is that the cases are going down. So we’re at that pivot point where things are flattish at the moment. If they go up quickly, then, as I said, you’ve got to go early in terms of getting on top of it. You can’t wait until it’s late because you have to do more,” he said.

The decision to introduce booster vaccination doses follows evidence that the protection offered by coronavirus vaccines wanes after a number of months, although they remain highly effective in preventing serious illness. Data from Israel has shown that an extra vaccine dose after six months can help to reduce hospitalisations.

Members of Sage, the British government’s panel of scientific experts, called for urgent action to prevent hospitalisations rising to between 2,000 and 7,000 next month, according to minutes of the group’s meetings.

They warned that the return of children to school and workers to offices could push up infection rates unless mandatory mask wearing and advice to work from home were brought back and vaccine passports were introduced.