The Covid-19 vaccination programme should be extended so people of any age can get a vaccine if they want one, an academic has said.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chairwoman of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said that the vaccine programme should emulate the flu programme so people can get a jab privately should they wish.
At present Covid-19 jabs are not available to buy in the UK.
Only over 65s and people who are clinically at risk are able to get a vaccine through the official vaccination programme.
The vaccine programme for this winter is due to begin next week in England, after being brought forward due to fears over a new variant.
The variant, known as BA.2.86, has not been classified as a “variant of concern” but scientists have said that it carries a high number of mutations and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is watching it closely.
On the new variant, Prof Sridhar told Sky News: “It’s still a sub lineage of Omicron and so in that sense, we’re still in the Omicron age, but I think here what you’re seeing is its ability to reinfect those who have already had a previous version of Omicron as well as how transmissible it is, and so those are the concerns.
“But I would say that early studies are showing that it is not more severe in terms of its health impact, and also that it’s not having a higher hospitalisation rate, and those are the two things that we’re watching carefully in terms of future variants.
“What we know is it’s highly infectious and so we are seeing this spread rapidly in those kind of environments where you have many people in an environment where they can infect each other.
“I think it comes back to the booster question of who should actually be getting a booster this autumn as we head into winter, given that we know protection wanes from a vaccine over time.
“There is a real case to be made for widening the criteria for who gets a booster and as we already know, moving sooner so that people have that protection if they are exposed to a new sub lineage of Omicron.”
Asked if the Covid-19 vaccine programme should be expanded, she added: “(We should) make it accessible to those who want to have it.
“If we are moving towards a yearly programme similar to seasonal flu (where) we do allow younger people, those who are living with those who are vulnerable, to go out and actually get vaccinated against flu, you can go to a pharmacy and have it done.
“And so I hope we are moving to a similar model (for Covid), which is that if you do feel that you are vulnerable, even if you’re not in one of those official categories, if you’re living with someone vulnerable, if you just don’t want to feel rubbish from Covid and want that extra boost for your immunity, that you could go out and get the vaccine.
“And so I think there is talk about this happening in future years, but given what we’re seeing Covid still around, there’s a lot of it, there’s still people ill with it, we should be thinking how do we actually get it out now, quicker, faster across into pharmacies across the country.”