More than 30 million people are to be offered a Covid booster jab as part of government plans for “living with the virus” throughout the winter.
Following final recommendations provided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, all over-50s, clinically vulnerable individuals and healthcare workers will be offered a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in the weeks ahead – regardless of what jabs they received earlier in the year.
Only those individuals from the top nine priority groups who have been fully jabbed for more than six months will be eligible for a booster. The Pfizer vaccine will be administered as a full dose, while the Moderna vaccine will be offered as a half dose.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the two mRNA vaccines are safe to use as boosters and well tolerated, while separate research has found that both jabs provide a high immunological response.
The MHRA has also given the green light for flu vaccines to be administered at the same as the Covid-19 booster jab. More than 35 million people are to be offered the vaccine as a nasal spray or jab amid fears of a resurgence in influenza cases this winter.
Senior health officials have said that the launching of a winter Covid booster programme does not mean that top-up doses will be provided every six months. The JCVI will be tasked with determining whether boosters will be needed each year, though a decision on this is not expected to be made until next year.
Antibody levels have been shown to be waning in people who were vaccinated at the beginning of the year, though the vaccines remain highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation.
The government is hopeful that the boosters will maintain high protection levels throughout winter, when cases are expected to increase as people spend more time indoors.
“We’re not past the pandemic, we’re in an active phase still,” said Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer. “This winter could possibly be bumpy at times”.
Although clinical trials have shown that a third booster dose raises an individual’s antibody levels, it is still unclear how much more additional benefit this will provide in protecting against hospitalisation and death.
Data released by the Office for National Statistics on Monday showed that there have only been 59 Covid deaths in the first six months of the year among people who were fully vaccinated and who weren’t extremely clinically vulnerable. There were a total of 51,281 Covid fatalities during this period.
More to follow