Scientists and health experts have cautioned that the new variant could have the ability to bypass the effectiveness of vaccines that are currently available.

The UK government has signed two new contracts for an additional 114 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in an effort to tackle the emerging threat of the new Omicron variant.

The agreements are for 60 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 54 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. These deals are in addition to 35 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine anticipated to be delivered next year, 60 million vaccines from Novavax and 7.5 million from Sanofi and GSK. These are not booster doses, however, but are jabs that could be used throughout next winter and beyond.

At least 32 cases of the Omicron variant have now been detected across the UK, despite the early implementation of a travel ban on many nations in South Africa after the variant was first reported there. Omicron has between 26 and 32 mutations. Scientists and health experts have warned that it has the potential to evade the effectiveness of current vaccines.

The UK government has said that the emergence of Omicron has resulted in negotiations with vaccine developers to ensure that the process of development and delivery is accelerated. Moderna’s president, Stephen Hoge, said the company could have a COVID-19 booster shot targeting the Omicron variant ready to file for US authorisation as soon as March 2022.

Hoge expressed his belief that booster shots carrying genes specifically targeting mutations in the newly-discovered Omicron variant would be the quickest way to address any anticipated reductions in vaccine efficacy that it may cause.

All adults in England are expected to be offered a booster dose by the end of January 2022, a rollout that will be made swifter by the additional vaccine supplies.