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U.K.’s Johnson to Give Green Light to Covid Booster Shots

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(Bloomberg) — Boris Johnson will confirm Tuesday that booster vaccinations against coronavirus will be rolled out to the most vulnerable people this fall, as he sets out the U.K.’s new approach to tackling the virus.

The British prime minister will hold a press conference outlining who will be eligible for the booster shot, soon after Health Secretary Sajid Javid gives a statement on the issue to the House of Commons.

More details are also expected on which vaccines will be used for the booster program. The government said Monday that 12- to 15-year-olds in England would be offered a single shot of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine in schools from next week, in a bid to reduce transmission and keep pupils in classrooms.

Cases remain relatively high in Britain but Johnson is keen to move to a new chapter in the pandemic, moving away from the threat of lockdowns and mandatory vaccine passports toward more individual choices and freedoms.

“The pandemic is far from over, but thanks to our phenomenal vaccine program, new treatments and testing we are able to live with the virus without significant restrictions on our freedoms,” Johnson said in an emailed statement late Monday. He vowed to set out a “clear plan” for the fall and winter, when “the virus has a natural advantage, to protect the gains we have made.”

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi on Tuesday told Sky News that while vaccines are now the government’s “prime” tool for managing the virus, lockdowns will remain in the U.K.’s armory.

“Lockdown will be an absolutely last resort,” he said. “What we are trying to do at the moment is to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic.”

The National Health Service has been preparing for booster shots since July, but ministers have been waiting for the final advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation before giving the program the green light. Johnson’s office confirmed Monday it had now received this advice.

Zahawi told the House of Commons late Monday the booster program would be “ambitious” and begin later this month.

The U.K. may also soon drop mandatory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for returning passengers who are fully vaccinated, as part of an overhaul of its “traffic light” system of Covid travel restrictions, according to reports. 

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