Covid live: booster ‘significantly reduces’ risk of Omicron symptoms; Taiwan and
A booster dose means the risk of symptomatic infection with the Omicron variant is “significantly reduced”, according to health officials who have urged all those eligible to make sure they get their third jab.
It comes as the experts warned Omicron could become the dominant variant in the UK by mid-December, with the communities secretary, Michael Gove, saying everything is being kept “under review” in terms of measures to tackle the spread.
Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) found that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines provided “much lower” levels of protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron compared to Delta.
But the preliminary data, which looked at 581 people with confirmed Omicron, suggested effectiveness seemed to “increase considerably” in the early period after a booster dose, giving about 70-75% protection against symptomatic infection.
The findings come as daily Covid cases reached their highest level in almost a year and the UKHSA predicted that, if current trends continue, the UK will exceed 1 million infections by the end of the month.
Gove warned of a “deeply concerning situation” after holding a Cobra meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the latest data and the co-ordinated response across the four nations.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, said while their early data should be treated with caution, it indicated that “a few months after the second jab, there is a greater risk of catching the Omicron variant compared to Delta strain”.
The data suggest this risk is significantly reduced following a booster vaccine, so I urge everyone to take up their booster when eligible.
Speaking to broadcasters, Gove said the Omicron variant is doubling every two to three days in England “and possibly even faster in Scotland”.
He added that 30% of reported cases in London were the new variant, and warned that evidence suggested Omicron was “more likely” than past Covid variants to “potentially” lead to hospital admissions among the fully vaccinated.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, earlier warned of the possibility of a “tsunami of infections” from the new variant – and said she could not rule out more restrictions north of the border as a result.
But No 10 maintained that there were “no plans” to go further with measures in England, amid reports that proposals are being drawn up for a “Plan C” featuring even tougher rules.
Gove said the current approach being taken was “proportionate”, but acknowledged that “we absolutely do need to keep everything under review”.
Action is absolutely required and, as new data comes in, we will consider what action we do require to take in the face of that data.
The Guardian reported that the health secretary, Sajid Javid, had been given a presentation from the UKHSA earlier this week warning that even if Omicron leads to less serious disease than Delta, it still risks overwhelming the NHS with 5,000 people admitted to hospital a day.
It said the leaked advice said “stringent action” would be needed on or before December 18 if the variant’s doubling time stays at 2.5 days, although what such restrictions might entail were not set out other than to say measures that would bring the R number – representing the average number of people each Covid-positive person goes on to infect – below 1.
Prof Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose data was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, told the Guardian that projections suggested Omicron could “very substantially overwhelm the NHS, getting up to peak levels of admissions of 10,000 people per day”.
He said such a figure could be reached “sometime in January” but added that it was based on assumptions around the variant’s ability to get around existing protection, and the premise that it is similar to Delta in terms of the severity of disease it causes – something that is not yet known.