Covid booster vaccines will be rolled out to priority groups in the UK from next month, the Health Secretary has confirmed.
Sajid Javid said the jabs will start to be offered in September at the same time as a flu jab in a bid to protect the most vulnerable ahead of winter.
The government is awaiting advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) before the booster programme can get underway, but it is expected to start in early September.
Mr Javid indicated that the jabs will likely be offered to the over 50s, with those who received their vaccine when the rollout began in December last year to be prioritised.
Speaking during a visit to a hospital in Milton Keynes on Tuesday (10 August), he said: “When it comes to booster jabs we are waiting for the final advice from JCVI, that’s our group of independent clinical advisers, and when we get that advice we will be able to start the booster programme, but I anticipate it will begin in early September, so I’m already making plans for that.
"It's really important that when we start that programme, the sort of first cohorts, the ones that got the jabs early on when we started our programme - the first in the world back in December last year - that those cohorts come first and so we will be prioritising it.
"Also in terms of vaccination, it's important to say that they're working. This wall of defence that the vaccines have created are working.
“It's massively reduced hospitalisations, deaths from Covid are mercifully low and that's because of our vaccination programme."
Who will be eligible for the booster jab?
Those who have been classed as vulnerable to Covid-19 because of their age, job or health condition will likely be invited for a booster jab, while some people may be offered one to protect others.
The proposals suggest that the programme will follow a two-stage approach, with vulnerable groups offered the vaccine first.
In Stage 1 the following groups are expected to be invited for a booster dose, and the flu vaccine, from September:
- adults aged 70 or over
- those living in care homes for older adults
- frontline health and social care workers
- adults aged 16 years and over who are immunosuppressed
- adults aged 16 years and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable
In Stage 2, the following groups should be offered a booster dose as soon as practicable after Stage 1, with “equal emphasis on the flu vaccine where eligible”:
- all adults aged 50 and over
- all adults aged 16 to 49 years who are in an influenza or Covid-19 at-risk group
- adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that there were around 15 million people who would be called forward in Stage 1, and 17 million in Stage 2.
Is a booster jab really needed?
The booster programme is being rolled out to help ensure the most vulnerable groups have the strongest possible protection against Covid heading into winter, when viruses typically spread more easily and pressure on the NHS is already high.
It is unlikely that the jabs will be offered to younger adults as they should have at least six months of immunity from the second vaccine doses, which will last into next year.
While the programme is due to get underway next month, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who played a key role in developing the AstraZeneca vaccine, has stressed that any waning of protection from the vaccines would be “gradual”, stating that “there isn’t any reason at this moment to panic”.
Sir Andrews said data suggests that the vaccines are working against coronavirus and protecting the fully vaccinated from severe disease and death.
He said it is not the case that we will “get to the end of September and suddenly find that the pandemic starts again”, and added that if there is a “fall-off in protection” it would happen gradually and “at a point where we can pick it up and be able to respond”.
Sir Andrew also suggested that vaccines should be offered to other parts of the world before the UK invites people for a third dose.
He told a session of the group of parliamentarians: “The optics of going for a major booster programme in the UK is a really difficult one.
“Both what we’re talking about in terms of what would be a moral failure with no doses in many parts of the world and three doses here.
“So there’s that aspect. But there’s also the messaging, because that says to other countries ‘well if the UK needs three doses, we need three doses’. And so that has a huge implication for sucking even more doses out of the system.”
Dr Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University, also told the session that countries should prioritise vulnerable people in other parts of the world before considering booster programmes.
He said: “Every country in the world that is sitting on doses needs to get them on a plane and get them to the places that need them now.
“You have vaccinated most people in the UK. If we’re going to boost people in the UK and United States before the rest of the world, we have to ask really what we’re doing and whom we’re doing it for.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, NationalWorld.