Over-50s who test positive for Covid-19 should be enrolled in live trials for pioneering antiviral drugs to increase their chance of overcoming the illness, a report by the Tony Blair Institute says.
The paper, Staying Ahead of the Covid Curve, outlines steps that should be taken by the UK government to help prevent further deterioration in public health amid the pandemic.
It singles out a new promising antiviral drug by Pfizer, known as paxlovid, which preliminary data has shown reduces mortality and has already been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
The document says that if a person over 50 tests positive, they should be automatically invited to enrol in a live trial of the Pfizer drug and this should be a "button click away" online.
The UK has ordered 250,000 courses of the new Pfizer tablet and about 500,000 of another antiviral drug by Merck.
Using these drugs could help to prevent thousands of hospital admissions, particularly among the most vulnerable groups, the report says.
In the report, the former UK prime minister also recommends a vaccine infrastructure that could be put in place within 48 hours, in anticipation that a fourth round of Covid shots is needed in the near future.
The report also asks the British government to establish a task force that would try to convince the unvaccinated to come forward for the shot.
“The lesson of Omicron emphasises yet again that Covid-19 surprises us, usually on the downside," Mr Blair said.
“This report is about how we stay ahead of the curve, rather than constantly playing catch-up.
“To achieve this, we need to take decisions fast, take them in a co-ordinated manner, and execute effectively and at speed. Be prepared at all times.
“So here we set out how we make this happen, so that we don’t have unnecessary restrictions on our lives, but can cope with new variants and the possibility of a fourth or more vaccine dose, so business can plan ahead, so that we minimise uncertainty and maximise the predictability of daily life.
“We understand how difficult this is for government. Right now, all the options are tough.
"But with the right forward thinking and preparation we can make the options easier to administer and for the public to understand and accept.”
The report stresses the need for a strong “infrastructure” for future vaccine distribution. It said the booster programme has been slower than the original two shots because of a smaller national effort.
It calls for a “command and control” structure that could be introduced in future, providing a “coherent public-health emergency operations centre” when required, and a “well-established system of Covid passes”.
It also calls for a government campaign to convince unvaccinated people to have their shots, particularly the over-50s who are at more risk of hospital admission from Covid-19.
The report recommends the vaccine becomes available to children aged 5 to 11 to lessen the effect of Covid-19 on their education, and says saliva-based PCR testing could be used in future, as it is less invasive than current test kits.
Mr Blair’s non-profit also recommends greater international co-operation on sharing vaccines with poorer nations in the global south.