Covid: UK may need to 'face up' to possibility of further action if Omicron variant is very transmissible says Vallance

Sir Patrick Vallance said vaccine makers are already looking at how they can make them more effective against emerging variants.

Published Last updated

The UK may need to “face up” to the possibility of further action if the Omicron variant is very transmissible , the UK’s chief scientific adviser has said.

Sir Patrick Vallance told the Downing Street press conference: “I think we’ll get more information on transmissibility, we’ll get more information on the ability of the vaccines to protect against the virus, but that’s going to take a little bit of time.

“At the moment, the models are more ‘if it spreads very fast, of course it’s going to spread very fast and go into a lot of places, and if it spreads less fast it’s going to do so less’.

“But if it’s very transmissible and does cause big escape, then clearly that’s a major issue we have to face up to.

“But that isn’t what we know at the moment, we need to get that information.”

Sir Patrick Vallance said vaccine makers are already looking at how they can make them more effective against emerging variants, and that a jab designed to specifically target the Omicron variant could be created in “about 100 days”.

He told the Downing Street press conference: “I think it’s important to recognise there are three ways in which this can be done and the companies are thinking about this. The first is the boosters will give high enough antibody coverage that actually that’s going to be enough to cover this. That’s the first situation and needs to be tested. But that looks like something that anyway is going to give protection, whether there’s more needed on top of that we’ll have to see.

“The second is that vaccine manufacturers have been producing broader vaccines anyway to get broader coverage across potential new variants. So those are in the pipeline.

“Then a couple of companies have already said they could tweak their existing vaccines and get a new vaccine out specifically against this in about 100 days.

“Those are the sort of three scenarios, clearly the one which is the one to really go for now is boost, because it is the case that as you keep boosting the vaccine, you get slightly broader coverage because the immune system knows it needs to get broader.

“Because the antibody levels are so high, it actually causes enough coverage of other variants to be effective.”

He added it is expected the variant will spread.

It comes as Boris Johnson has said anyone arriving in the UK will be asked to take a PCR test for Covid-19 on the second day and they must self-isolate until they provide a negative result.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference on Saturday: “We’re not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, we’re not going to stop people travelling, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result.

“Second, we need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK, because measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together.

“We will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of your vaccination status.

“We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.”

Mr Johnson continued: “Third, and most importantly, we need to bolster our protections against this new variant.

“We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection.

“If you’re boosted, your response is likely to be stronger so it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible.

“From today we’re going to boost the booster campaign, we’re already planning to do six million jabs in England alone over the next three weeks and now we’re looking to go further.

“The Health Secretary has asked the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster.”