UK declares ‘Omicron emergency’, to give booster shots to all above 18 from this week

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The United Kingdom, which has been witnessing a rapid increase in Omicron cases, has declared an “emergency” and decided to start booster doses for everyone above the age of 18 from this week, the BBC reported.

“I’m afraid we’re now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant Omicron,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quoted as having said in a TV statement on Sunday evening. “No one should be in any doubt, there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming.”

He added: “It is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need. But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose, a booster dose, we can all bring our level of protection back up.”

Johnson said that as of now, scientists were not sure whether the Omicron caused less or severe symptoms than the Delta variant. “However, we already know it is so much more transmissible that a wave of Omicron through a population that was not boosted would risk a level of hospitalisation that could overwhelm our NHS (National Health Service — UK’s public healthcare system) and lead sadly to very many deaths,” he added.

Johnson’s comments came on a day when the United Kingdom raised its coronavirus alert level to four — the second highest level. This corresponds to a stage in the epidemic where the transmission of the pathogen is considered to be very high or rising exponentially. Till now, the UK was on alert level three.

BBC quoted medical officers as saying that hospitalisations from the Omicron variant were already happening in the UK and that these were “likely to increase rapidly”.

Meanwhile, Israeli researchers have reported a significant increase in protection against the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus in people who have received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, news agency Reuters reported.

The study by the researchers compared individuals who had received two doses of the vaccine five to six months ago with those who had received a third dose a month ago. “People who received the second dose five or six months ago do not have any neutralisation ability against Omicron. However, they do have some (neutralisation ability) against the Delta (variant),” Gili Regev-Yochay, the director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

“The good news is that with the booster dose, it increases about 100-fold. There is a significant protection of the booster dose. It is lower than the neutralisation ability against the Delta, about four times lower,” she added.

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The Israeli research is just the latest of several studies which have been indicating the need of a third dose of vaccine for protection against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

In India, five more Omicron infections were confirmed on Sunday, taking the total number to 38. While Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Chandigarh reported their first cases, two cases were recorded in Karnataka and Maharashtra.

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