The government has signed contracts to buy 114 million more COVID vaccine doses for 2022 and 2023 as UK cases of the new Omicron variant rise to 32.
The additional jabs will make sure the country has enough doses “that we need for the long term”, the health secretary added, as he reiterated that vaccines “still remain our best line of defence”.
The announcement came as identified cases of the new Omicron variant in the UK increased to 32 on Wednesday, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirming that nine more cases have been identified in England and one in Scotland.
The UKHSA added that the variant has now been found in the East Midlands, east of England, London, the South East and the North West.
The identified Scottish cases are in Lanarkshire and Greater Glasgow.
On Monday, the government confirmed that all adults will be offered a COVID-19 booster vaccine as part of a far-reaching expansion of the jabs programme to deal with the potential impact of the Omicron variant.
Mr Javid also announced that the gap between second doses and booster jabs will be shortened from six months to three months, and children aged between 12 and 15 will be offered a second dose – again, after no less than three months.
The health secretary added that severely immunosuppressed people will have access to another booster vaccine, meaning for some, a fourth dose this winter.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed that the government intends for all those eligible to be offered a booster jab by the end of January.
Announcing the new vaccine contracts, Mr Javid said: “Since we learned about this new variant, our strategy has been to buy time – time to assess it, but also to build our defences – and vaccines still remain our best line of defence.
“But I am also pleased to announce that today, that we have signed contracts with Pfizer and Moderna to get an additional 114 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine doses for the next two calendar years.
“I accelerated this purchase in light of this new variant – which includes purchases of modified vaccines – to make sure that we have got the vaccines that we need for the long term.”
Science minister George Freeman told Sky News: “The UK is leading in both the science of defeating this virus and in the rollout package for vaccines here in the UK.
“We have procured another 114 million doses, so we have got the doses here for patients over the next few months.
“We are in a global race to make sure we defeat this pandemic.”
However, a World Health Organisation expert said on Wednesday he was not aware of any evidence that would suggest offering booster jabs to the entire population gives any greater protection to healthy people.
Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said: “It’s tough for some countries who have huge amounts of excess vaccine to decide who to give it to.”
He added that the UK was in a “luxurious position” to be able to offer booster jabs.
Not much is known about the new strain but there are fears it could be more contagious and more resistant to vaccines.
At least 23 countries, including the UK, have now reported instances – and the WHO expects that number to rise.
It is hoped measures – including the reintroduction of mask-wearing in some settings in the UK – could buy more time for scientists to gain a greater understanding of the virus.
This measure was brought back in on Tuesday alongside day two PCR tests for travellers returning to the UK.
Close contacts of anyone who tests positive for the new Omicron variant have also been ordered to isolate for 10 days.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people not to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays, telling a Downing Street press conference he would “throw everything” at the booster vaccination campaign to tackle the variant’s spread.
He added that 400 military personnel will help the NHS to deliver the expanded booster programme and vaccination centres will be “popping up like Christmas trees”.
But Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said everyone could do their bit to tackle the spread of the new variant by reducing the number of social contacts they have – and by “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to”.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, told Sky News some NHS organisations have asked staff “not to mix in big groups” in the run-up to Christmas owing to fears off staff absences.