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It had previously recommended only those over 65 be offered the jab. Announcing the move – and also the offer a free flu jab – Health Secretary Steve Barclay warned the “risk of getting Covid is higher” as winter approaches.
Infections jumped by 29 percent in the seven days up to July 6 and experts have said cases are “showing no signs of decreasing.”
The Office for National Statistics’ weekly infection survey estimated 3.5 million people had Covid – the highest figure since April.
In England, 2,873,600 people – or one person in 19 – had the virus last week, while 334,000 cases were recorded in Scotland (one in 16).
In Wales, 183,500 people had Covid (one in 17), and in Northern Ireland there were 107,600 cases (one in 17).
The surge is being driven by fastspreading sub-variants of Omicron, called BA.4 and BA.5 and it is the sixth week in a row cases have risen.
Hospital admissions of people with Covid in England are also rising.
The rate stood at 17.9 per 100,000 people in the week ending July 10, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
This is up from 15.7 per 100,000 the week before – but it is the smallest rise for several weeks.
And there were only 274 people on hospital ventilators – down from a peak of 3,700 in England in January 2021, showing vaccines are still protecting people from serious illness.
Mr Barclay, who was appointed last week after Sajid Javid quit, said: “Viruses spread more easily with people socialising inside.
“It is absolutely vital the most vulnerable groups receive a booster vaccine to strengthen their immunity against serious disease and reduce pressure on the NHS.
The flu virus could also be highly infectious at this time of year.
“So I am also announcing that those eligible for a free vaccination will include everyone aged 50 and over, primary school children and secondary school pupils in years seven, eight and nine, as well as people in clinical risk groups, unpaid carers and household contacts of those who are immunosuppressed.
“If you or your child are eligible for a Covid or flu vaccine, I urge you to come forward as soon as you are invited by the NHS.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, UKHSA director of clinical programmes echoed Mr Barclay’s call.
She said: “We urge all those who are eligible for the spring booster to take up the offer as soon as possible.
“Anyone who has not yet had their first or second dose should also get up to date with their jabs to give themselves the best possible protection.”
And Sarah Crofts, chief analyst at the ONS, said infections could reach pandemic highs this summer.
She said: “Infections are showing no signs of decreasing, with rates approaching levels last seen in March this year at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave.”
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