The NHS is drawing up plans for a Covid jab booster programme that would roll out third shots of vaccine to millions of the most vulnerable people in the UK from September.
The move follows interim advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation for the health service to prepare a two-stage autumn booster programme pending a final decision in the summer on whether to proceed.
Public health officials believe a further round of Covid shots may be needed to keep levels of protection high enough over the autumn and winter when cases of coronavirus are expected to rebound at the same time that the UK enters what could be a particularly bad influenza season.
Extra shots of Covid vaccine are seen as particularly important for vulnerable people whose immunity may have waned since they had their shots, and to beef up protection against any variants of the virus that partially evade the vaccines.
“The primary objective of any potential Covid-19 booster vaccine programme should be to reduce serious disease, including death,” said Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI’s Covid-19 group. “The JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be required, a third Covid-19 vaccine dose should be offered to the most vulnerable first, starting from September 2021 to maximise individual protection and safeguard the NHS ahead of winter. Almost all these people would also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and are strongly advised to have the flu vaccine.”
He said the JCVI would review data on the epidemic, levels of vaccine protection, new variants and results from trials on the efficacy of different booster shots, such as Cov-Boost, in the weeks ahead. “Our final advice on booster vaccination may change substantially,” he added.
The JCVI recommends that if a Covid booster programme goes ahead then stage one should offer a third dose to:
Stage 2 would offer a third dose to:
The expectation is that any booster would be a single shot, making the rollout faster than the double doses given so far. Since most younger adults will not receive their second Covid vaccine jab until late summer they may not need a booster this winter.
The JCVI, which advises ministers on the UK’s immunisation strategy, has not recommended a particular vaccine for the booster programme, but the government vaccines taskforce has been asked to ensure the UK has sufficient doses of different vaccines before the autumn to deliver whatever strategy the committee recommends.
If the programme goes ahead, public health officials will be keen to offer Covid boosters alongside the annual NHS flu jabs, which are being extended again this year to all over-50s.
“We want to be on the front foot for Covid-19 booster vaccination to keep the probability of loss of vaccine protection due to waning immunity or variants as low as possible. Especially over the coming autumn and winter,” said Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England.
“Fewer or no restrictions will mean that other respiratory viruses, particularly flu, will make a comeback and quite possibly be an additional problem this winter, so we will need to ensure protection against flu as well as maintaining protection against Covid-19.”
“We have to be driven by data, and there will be more data from vaccine booster studies for JCVI to look at over summer, so we should all remember that this advice is interim and might change between now and September,” he added. “However, JCVI has clearly set out the broad direction of travel, which I agree with, and which ministers have accepted.”