A third jab could be offered to those over 50 before winter in bid to stop the threat of coronavirus in the UK by Christmas, it is understood.
People could receive a vaccine specifically modified to tackle new variants of the Covid, or a third shot of the three vaccines already in use.
That’s according to the Times, which said trials of these two options are under way and being supervised by England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty.
Early findings from the trials raised hopes that the two approaches will be able to nullify any threat from new and existing variants, the newspaper reported.
A senior government minister told the paper: “We will have a lot to say about the booster programme soon. It’s looking really positive so far.
“We think that the level of protection in the population to any variant will be so high that by Christmas, Covid-19 should have just faded away into the background like any other illness in circulation. So much so that we don’t think there will be any need to give a booster shot to younger people because transmission will have got so low.”
It is also thought that a third jab will only be given to over-50s and those with underlying health conditions, who are at higher risk.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said testing facilities at Porton Down in Wiltshire are to be bolstered to help “future proof” the country, with a cash boost confirmed for the expansion of the laboratories where scientists test existing and new vaccines against variants of concern.
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Tests on blood samples can help scientists monitor the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines.
Current testing capacity is 700 tests a week, but the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said this will increase to 1,500 by January 2022 – backed with a previous £20 million investment.
The DHSC said a further £29.3 million investment will double the capacity for testing variant samples to 3,000 per week when the work is completed.
Mr Hancock said: “We’ve backed UK science from the very start of this pandemic and this multi-million pound funding for a state-of-the-art vaccine testing facility at Porton Down will enable us to further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants.”
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave.
“This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants.”
The investment comes ahead of the expected lifting of the ban on foreign holidays for people in England from May 17 as part of the next easing of coronavirus restrictions.
A risk-based traffic light system will be introduced, with different rules for returning travellers depending on which list their destination is on.
People arriving from a green location will not have to quarantine, while those returning from somewhere on the amber list must self-isolate for at least five days.
The red list requires a 10-night stay in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £1,750 for solo travellers.
The green list for foreign holiday destinations will reportedly be published on Friday, and Government travel advice gives an indication of which destinations could be on it.
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