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Covid-19 Update

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 15 December 2021

The UK’s covid-19 vaccine programme continues to work tirelessly to protect the nation against the virus. As of 14 December, 51.2 million people have now received their first covid-19 vaccine dose and 46.8 million have had their second dose. Over 24 million people have also received a third dose/booster vaccine, which we now know is essential in providing the best protection against the Omicron variant.

Temporary suspension of 15-minute observation period

The SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 (Omicron) was designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation on 26 November 2021. Since its discovery, scientists around the world have been working at pace to understand whether this strain could escape the vaccine, and if so, to what extent. On Friday 10 December, the UK Health Security Agency published an early analysis of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines’ effectiveness against Omicron. This analysis indicated that two doses of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines were insufficient to give adequate levels of protection against infection and mild disease. However, the study estimated that a third booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine increases the protection against symptomatic disease for the Omicron variant to 71% for those who received a primary course of the AstraZeneca, and 76% to those who received a primary course of the Pfizer vaccine.

Based on current trends, the Omicron variant is projected to become the dominant variant of coronavirus in the UK in the coming days and weeks, and therefore it is vital that we increase the pace of the booster programme. To this end, on 12 December 2021, the Prime Minister announced all eligible adults would now be offered a booster jab before the end of the year—bringing forward our target by a month. We need to do everything we can to speed up the pace of the booster programme and that is why I have agreed, based on advice from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), and lead Deputy Chief Medical Officers (DCMOs) for vaccines, to temporarily suspend the 15-minute observation period for the mRNA vaccines.

The UK CMOs have advised that the 15-minute observation period should be temporarily suspended for first, second and homologous or heterologous boost vaccinations with mRNA vaccines. The CMOs’ views are aligned with those of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s Commission on Human Medicines (CHM). The CHM will keep the suspension under close review.

Those individuals with a history of allergic reactions will continue to be managed in line with the advice set out in the UK Health Security Agency’s Green Book on Immunisation.

How the 15-minute suspension is operationally implemented will be determined by each nation in line with their needs. The UK Health Security Agency updated the Green Book to reflect the change from on Tuesday 14 December. The updated Patient Group Direction and Protocol will be published shortly.

The advice of the CMOs and DCMOs, and the MHRA, can be found at the following links.

I will update the House in a similar manner as and when there are further important developments in the covid-19 vaccine deployment programme.