UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that over-18s will be offered a Covid booster jab by the end of the year in England, bringing forward the target to give every eligible adult the opportunity to get their third jab amid fears of a "tidal wave of Omicron" that could cause "very many deaths".
In a prerecorded address to the nation, Boris Johnson announced that from Monday, in England the booster vaccine programme will be opened up to every adult over 18 who has had a second dose of the vaccine at least three months ago - the NHS booking system will be open to the younger age groups from Wednesday.
In a stark warning, the PM told the nation “we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection”, as he set a new deadline of jabbing everyone over 18 by the new year.
“No one should be in any doubt that there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming and I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we need,” Mr Johnson.
Speaking on Sunday, the Prime Minister said: “We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron here in the UK right now.
“At this point our scientists cannot say that Omicron is less severe.
"So we must act now. Today we are launching the Omicron emergency booster national mission, unlike anything we’ve done before in the vaccination programme, to get boosted now.
“A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January.
“Today in light of this Omicron emergency I’m bringing that target forward by a whole month.
“Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the new year.”
Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said the government had Labour’s support to accelerate the booster programme, as he urged the public to “protect our families, friends and the NHS” by getting a top-up jab amid fears over the Omicron variant.
Sir Keir, said: "The arrival of the worrying new variant is a reminder that the pandemic is not over. And vaccines are the best weapon in our fight.
"The vaccine is safe and effective. It protects us and those around us. We will always support the NHS and act in the public interest.
"Therefore the government has our support in the effort to accelerate the booster programme. It’s also vital that we use the Christmas holidays to get the vaccine out to eligible children."
Starmer encouraged everyone to get boosted as soon as they can - and if they haven’t had their first or second jab yet, now is the time to come forward.
"We have come so far since those darkest of days at the start of the pandemic.
"So much has been asked of the British people, and time and again you have risen to the challenge. So let’s keep our foot on the pedal and get Britain boosted to protect our families, friends and NHS."
Scotland said it aims to offer booster jabs to all eligible adults by the end of the year, but more Covid-19 restrictions may still be needed to combat Omicron, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
In a statement following Boris Johnson’s address to the nation, Scotland’s first minister said urgent work is under way to “further accelerate rollout of the booster vaccination programme in Scotland.”
She said her government’s aim is to offer a “booster jab appointment to all eligible adults by the end of this year if possible”, with 30-39 year olds able to book from 10am on Monday and 18-29 year olds from later in the week.
"Given the expected volume of cases in the weeks ahead, however, it is also possible that further, proportionate protective measures or advice will be necessary," she said.
She added: "The number of cases will still put significant pressure on the NHS and the economy. The government will therefore consider the latest data tomorrow ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and I will set out any decisions to parliament later that day."
Meanwhile, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that delivering boosters to all adults in the UK would be a huge challenge, but if achieved it would be the most effective means to reduce severe disease and pressure on the NHS.