Older people and medical workers in the UK may be given a new version of the Covid jab this year which is designed to protect against the Omicron variant.
Ministers hope that the next generation of ‘vaccines’ made both by Pfizer and Moderna will be ready in time for autumn, when a new round of jabs is due to be administered to certain groups.
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The decision by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to target only those groups came as a surprise to the Government, according to a Whitehall source, because they had expected to offer an additional jab to everyone over 50.
It is possible that the criteria could be widened in the coming months, based on evidence about how quickly the current protection is waning and what difference another dose could do for younger groups.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is understood to believe there is a significant chance that the new jabs, adapted by their manufacturers to target Omicron specifically, can be used in the autumn booster campaign.
The UK has around 150 million vaccines on order from Pfizer and Moderna, having decided not to use the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab for any further boosters.
Contracts signed by the Government specify that the two US-based firms must deliver whatever is the latest version of their vaccine, meaning Britain should be near the front of the queue for accessing the adapted jabs.