All UK citizens over 18 will be offered a COVID-19 booster vaccine to deal with the potential impact of the omicron variant, the UK’s vaccine advisory body the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI) said today.

It is a rapid step forward for a mutation that was only identified last week, but such is the concern surrounding the potential impact of the new strain spreading globally.

Boosters will consist of either a Pfizer vaccine or a half dose of the Moderna jab.

One of the problems with the new strain is that it is too early to understand how vaccines already administered will cope , though both Moderna and Pfizer’s German partner BioNTech said they could have new versions of the jabs available in early 2022 if necessary.

Omicron was first identified on 25 November by South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases, but there was some encouragement today as one of the scientists that discovered suggested it might be much milder than originally thought.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, noticed seven patients on 18 November who had symptoms slightly different to Delta – the dominant coronavirus variant.

Fatigue, a scratchy throat, mild headache, and body aches are the main symptoms, while patients are yet to report a loss of smell or taste, or drop in oxygen levels, according to Coetzee.

The variant, which could be treated at home as it is “very mild,” has so far been affecting those who are under 40.

“Most of them are seeing very, very mild symptoms and none of them so far have admitted patients to surgeries [and] we have been able to treat these patients conservatively at home,” she said.

South Africa has a more youthful population than the UK’s ageing one which may explain why the patients have not been worryingly ill with the newly discovered variant.

Currently, there is minimal data on how Omicron impacts patients outside of South Africa, so it is unknown how people in other countries will be affected if infected.

Shares in Moderna jumped 10% today while Pfizer eased higher.

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