Christmas lockdown restrictions may return as vaccine protection against coronavirus is waning, warns the Health Secretary.
Sajid Javid said ‘we can avoid a return to restrictions’ if eligible people get their Covid-19 booster jabs.
He described the drive to get top-up vaccines as a “national mission” as a new system launches which allows people to book their booster jabs a month before they are eligible.
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It comes as the UK Health Security Agency’s chief medical adviser warns that deaths among those who have had two Covid-19 jabs are rising as protection from their vaccination shots weakens and flu season approaches.
Ministers are reportedly considering changing rules so those who are due top-up jabs but have not got them could face travel restrictions.
Mr Javid urged people to take up offers for booster Covid-19 jabs and flu vaccines and hinted that lockdown measures could be introduced again over Christmas, saying “if we all come together and play our part” then the country can “avoid a return to restrictions and enjoy Christmas”.
He added: “We know immunity begins to wane after six months, especially for the elderly and the vulnerable, and booster vaccines will top up their protection to keep people safe over the winter.
“I strongly urge everybody who is eligible for a Covid-19 booster or flu vaccine to take up the offer as soon as you can.
“And if you haven’t yet had your first and second vaccines, it is not too late, the NHS will always be there to welcome you with open arms.”
Official guidance updated earlier in November suggests booster jab uptake may be a requirement to avoid restrictions on travel.
It says the Government is “is reviewing the implications and requirements of boosters for international travel certification” and “looking at whether and how booster vaccinations could be included in the NHS Covid Pass for travel”.
The chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Susan Hopkins, said elderly and vulnerable people who are double vaccinated have started dying due to the Covid-19 vaccine’s efficacy waning.
She said: “We’re still seeing deaths in mainly the unvaccinated population, but increasingly, because of immune waning effects, there are deaths in the vaccinated group as well.
“The people who are dying are the same people who have died all the way through.
“It is particularly the older age groups, so the over-70s in particular, but also those who are clinically vulnerable, extremely vulnerable, and have underlying medical conditions.”
A leading scientific advisor to the Government says the UK is “a long way away” from thinking about a winter lockdown.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said “we are not out of the woods yet” as he urged people to have their flu and Covid-19 booster vaccines.
Asked about the prospect of a winter lockdown, he told Sky News: “I think we’re a long way away from thinking in those terms.
“I think that, clearly, there is a situation that, if the NHS is under severe pressure, if the number of deaths sadly starts to increase, then of course, obviously, there may be discussions around whether more restrictions need to come in.
“I would hope that, with a very successful vaccination campaign, the idea of a winter lockdown is a long way away.
“But it is certainly true that, if we don’t get good immunity across the population, there may need to be perhaps further measures taken.
“So it’s really important that we encourage people to come forward when eligible to take those booster jabs.”
Everybody over 50 is eligible for a booster jab six months after their second shot. People deemed most at risk from Covid-19 for health or work reasons can also get them. More than seven in 10 people aged over 80 have had a booster, as have almost three in five people aged over 50 according to NHS figures. Around 30% of over 80s and 40% of over 50s in England are yet to have their second jab, the Department of Health and Social Care says.
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