By JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA, LONDON (AP):- Long lines formed Monday at vaccination centers across England as people heeded the government’s call for all adults to get booster shots to protect themselves against the omicron variant, as the U.K. recorded its first death of a patient infected with omicron.
In a televised announcement late Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everyone 18 and up would be offered a third vaccine dose by Dec. 31 — less than three weeks away, and a month earlier than the previous target.
Johnson said said boosters would “reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” against an anticipated “tidal wave of omicron.” U.K. health authorities say omicron cases are doubling every two to three days in Britain, and it will replace delta as the dominant coronavirus strain within days.
The British government raised the country’s coronavirus threat level on Sunday, warning that the rapid spread of omicron “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and health care services.”
Scientists in South Africa, where omicron was first identified, say they the variant may cause less severe disease than delta but caution that it’s too soon to be certain. Health authorities around the world are watching Britain closely to see what an omicron surge looks like in a country with an older, more highly vaccinated population than South Africa’s.
About 10 people are in U.K. hospitals with omicron, and Johnson on Monday reported the country’s first COVID-19 omicron death.
“The idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that’s something we need to set on one side and just recognize the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population,” Johnson said as he visited a vaccination center in London. “So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters.”
The U.K. Health Security Agency says existing vaccines appear less effective in preventing symptomatic infections in people exposed to omicron, though effectiveness appears to rise to between 70% and 75% after a third dose.
More than 80% of people age 12 and up in Britain have received two vaccine doses, and 40% of adults have had three. Giving the rest of adults boosters by the end of the month will be a huge challenge, requiring almost 1 million vaccine shots a day. Johnson acknowledged that many routine medical procedures would have to be postponed to meet the goal.
Some 750 soldiers and thousands of volunteer vaccinators will help give the jabs at doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies and pop-up vaccination centers.
While the online booster appointment system will not be open to under-30s until Wednesday, Johnson said any adult could show up at a walk-in center to get a booster starting Monday.
That caused a rush at big London vaccination clinics on Monday morning. The line for shots at St. Thomas’ Hospital, on the south bank of the River Thames in London, stretched across Westminster Bridge toward Parliament. At many clinics, people queued patiently despite being told they faced a wait of several hours.
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