The National Health Service in England began offering a second Covid-19 vaccine booster on Monday to around five million people who are considered especially vulnerable to the disease.
Anyone in England over 75 years old, anyone over 12 who has a suppressed immune system, and anyone residing in a nursing home, can now receive a second booster dose, preferably about six months after their first one, the health service said, referring to the new dose as a “spring booster.” The British health minister, Sajid Javid, announced the move Sunday on Twitter.
“We must ensure those at greatest risk of serious illness from Covid are protected, and spring boosters will top up people’s immunity,” the country’s vaccine minister, Maggie Throup, said in a statement issued by the health service.
Health authorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are also offering additional booster shots. Providers will offer patients either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine.
The move coincides with a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases in Britain, connected to the BA. 2 version of the Omicron virus variant. New case reports rose by 79 percent in the two weeks ended March 20.
Preliminary analysis by the Health Security Agency suggests that while BA. 2 is more highly transmissible than the BA. 1 version of Omicron, it does not cause higher rates of hospitalization.
“Our level of concern has not changed,” Mr. Javid said on BBC television on Monday. “Although the case numbers are rising, infections are rising, and indeed hospital numbers are rising, they are still way below their peak.”
Mr. Javid said the rise was connected to the government’s decision on Feb. 21 to lift most coronavirus restrictions in the country.
Britain has been hit hard by the pandemic, with more than 20 million total cases reported so far — or three cases for every ten residents — and a relatively high death rate. About three-quarters of the population is fully vaccinated and more than 56 percent of residents have had a booster dose, according to the government.
Those figures are higher than many countries have managed, though Britain rank below Italy, Germany and Belgium among Britain’s European peers, according to the Our World in Data website.
“I am proud that we delivered the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, not once but twice, and the fastest booster rollout,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said in a speech on Saturday.
Some public health experts argue that offering another booster dose widens a disparity in vaccine access between high-income and low-income nations. They say using available doses to give more people initial vaccinations around the world is a better strategy for ending the pandemic than using them to reinforce protection for the already vaccinated.