Jonathan Van Tam says COVID Omicron surge is not all doom and gloom - 'Please don’t panic'

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Jonathan Van Tam during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Monday November 29, 2021. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van Tam. (Getty)

Professor Jonathan Van Tam has said the COVID Omicron surge is not all "doom and gloom" and people should not panic.

England's deputy chief medical officer reassured the public after it was revealed booster jabs would be offered to all over 18s to combat the new variant.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified two further cases of the Omicron variant in England, bringing the total to five.

Prof Van Tam said scientists had not yet determined if the variant would reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines but it was likely.

Watch: Our situation is perilous with new Covid variant, says WHO chief

Prof Van Tam told a Downing Street press conference: “I want to be clear this is not all doom and gloom at this stage and I do not want people to panic at this stage.

“If vaccine effectiveness is reduced, as seems pretty likely to some extent. The biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections and hopefully there will be smaller effects on preventing severe disease."

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is now advising that all adults aged 18 to 39 should be offered a booster dose, in order of descending age groups, to increase their level of protection.

Those aged 40 and over are already eligible for a booster vaccine.

Booster doses should be given no sooner than three months after people have had their second dose of an original vaccine – shaving three months off the current six-month wait, according to the JCVI.

In further advice, young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.

The JCVI also said that severely immunosuppressed people should be offered a booster dose no sooner than three months after completing their primary course of three doses.

The JCVI said that both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines can be given as a booster for adults – with equal preference given to both.

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UKHSA said the individuals who tested positive for the Omicron variant are not connected to each other and are not linked to the previously confirmed cases.

One case is located in Camden, London, and the other case is located in Wandsworth, London.

Both have travel links to southern Africa.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: A man receives his Covid-19 vaccination booster jab at the Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health & Wellbeing Centre on November 10, 2021 in the Stratford area of London, England. Over 10 million people have now received their Covid-19 vaccine boosters in the UK, as the government has allowed people over 50 and the clinically vulnerable to receive third jabs. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Booster jabs will be offered to all over 18s to combat the new variant. (Getty)

Experts believe the new variant could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in stopping people getting infected, though they think vaccines may still protect against severe disease.

However, it could be three more weeks before further details emerge from scientists on how transmissible the variant is, whether it evades vaccine protection and whether it causes more severe disease.

Prof Van-Tam said there was currently a “high degree of current uncertainty” about the Omicron variant.

He said those gaps in scientific knowledge would be filled “very rapidly” as experts around the world work on the problems.

Watch: What do we know about the Omicron variant?