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Fourth jabs are not currently needed, the Government’s scientific advisers have said, amid increasing evidence that omicron is far more mild than previous variants.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that boosters are continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease from omicron in older adults, including the most vulnerable.

Its analysis found that three months after they received the third jab, protection against hospitalisation among those aged 65 and over remains at about 90 per cent.

With just two vaccine doses, protection against severe disease drops to about 70 per cent after three months and to 50 per cent after six months.

Prof Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chairman of Covid-19 immunisation, said: “The current data show the booster dose is continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even for the most vulnerable older age groups.

“For this reason, the committee has concluded there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, though this will continue to be reviewed.

“The data is highly encouraging and emphasises the value of a booster jab. With omicron continuing to spread widely, I encourage everyone to come forward for their booster dose, or if unvaccinated, for their first two doses, to increase their protection against serious illness.”

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Covid numbers in Britain have fallen for a third day in a row as evidence emerges that each case is bringing up to 12 times fewer hospitalisations than last year’s winter peak.

There were 178,250 cases reported in the UK on Friday, down from 179,756 the previous day and a daily fall of more than 11,000 from the previous week.

New figures from Scotland show that just one per cent of people who test positive with Covid are ending up in hospital, down from 12 per cent last January.

On Friday, the Health Secretary said that the NHS is facing a “rocky few weeks ahead” as it contends with a wave of omicron cases.

Sajid Javid made the comments after two major incidents were declared in England due to pressures caused by the Covid variant’s spread.

During a visit to King’s College Hospital in south London, Mr Javid said that these were “challenging times” for the health service and the “best thing” people could do was get their Covid-19 booster jab.

He said: “When we look at omicron versus the previous variants, of course there are some encouraging signs. We know now that omicron is less severe.”

Mr Javid said three doses of Covid vaccine provided about 90 per cent effectiveness against hospitalisation for omicron, urging people to come forward for their third jab.

Sajid Javid, during a visit to King’s College Hospital in south London, said that the NHS is facing a ‘rocky few weeks ahead’ Sajid Javid, during a visit to King’s College Hospital in south London, said that the NHS is facing a ‘rocky few weeks ahead’ Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

On the same visit, Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of the NHS, said that a fortnight of further hospital admissions for Covid-19 are “already baked in” as some NHS staff face “the steepest climb of the pandemic yet”.

Latest figures show an increase in hospitalisations, with 2,434 admissions on Friday, up from 2,080.

However, NHS data show that in some areas, as many as 45 per cent of patients in hospital with Covid were admitted for other reasons.

Across the country, the figure is now 37 per cent, compared with 24 per cent earlier this month.

In the seven days up to January 2, cases of “incidental” Covid have risen by 135 per cent, from 2,065 to 4,845. Those classed as primarily Covid saw lower growth, of 83 per cent, from 4,479 to 8,200.

The West Midlands had the highest proportion of “incidental” cases, at 45 per cent.

Earlier this week, Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, the chairman of the JCVI, told The Telegraph that “more strong evidence is needed” before the rollout of a fourth vaccine.

He said: “We can’t vaccinate the planet every four to six months. It’s not sustainable or affordable. In the future, we need to target the vulnerable.”

He added that there was no point in trying to stop all infections, and that “at some point, society has to open up”.

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Speaking to mark the first anniversary of the AstraZeneca vaccine being rolled out, the scientist added: “The worst is absolutely behind us. We just need to get through the winter.”

It came as the NHS struggles to cope with staff absences as a result of Covid isolation. On Friday, the Army was called in to drive ambulances with a quarter of staff in the North West now isolating because of Covid.

Official statistics showed a 60 per cent rise in the numbers of hospital workers off work as a result of Covid in the past week.

Leaked figures suggested that the total number of NHS staff off work has reached almost 120,000, about one in 10 workers, while official data show more than 3,000 workers off sick at some major trusts.

Meanwhile, fire chiefs said firefighters will be drafted in to help health and care workers after a system wide major incident was declared in Northamptonshire.

Darren Dovey, the county’s Chief Fire Officer, said that the situation was “ likely to deteriorate over the next few weeks before it gets better” but said he expected the crisis to be “relatively short term” compared with the original wave of Covid.

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