Will the UK’s Covid booster campaign pick up speed in January?

Official data shows the number of people getting boosted in the UK fell to just over 100,000 op Sondag, compared with highs of more than 900,000 before Christmas when on some days people were queueing for hours to get vaccinated. Asked about the slowdown, the government’s vaccine minister, Maggie Throup, said the Christmas break and public holidays were key factors. So will this week see higher numbers coming forward or are there other factors at play?

Amper 60% of over-12s have had their booster or third dose. But only half of the remaining 40% have had their second dose and it is notable that there wasn’t a dramatic uptick in the number of people coming forward for first and second doses in the pre-Christmas vaccination campaign. Since a three-month gap is needed between doses, the ceiling for boosters will remain at 80% of over-12s well into the spring.

People need to wait 28 days after testing positive to be eligible for vaccination. So the huge surge in cases – 2 million were estimated to have had Covid in the week before Christmas – will have inevitably meant a large number of people postponing their booster. Figures on how many people this affected are not available. But the highest rates of Covid, met een in 15 people aged 25 aan 35 estimated to be infected in England last week, also coincide with the age group that would be roughly due for their booster if they had their previous vaccinations on schedule.

The general guidance, not just for Covid, is not to have a vaccination if you’re running an infection. Clinical trials automatically discount people who test positive, so there is not much evidence on exactly how the immune system responds to an infection and a booster at the same time. There aren’t any known harms associated with the combination, aside from the obvious one of putting health professionals at risk if you attend a clinic while infectious. Since infection also boosts antibody levels, there is likely to be less benefit to getting a booster at the same time. It is possible that the side-effects of a booster, on top of mild Covid symptoms, might feel a bit worse, but there is no suggestion that this would be a clinical concern.

Fom 11 Januarie in England, and from 6 Januarie in Scotland, people who receive positive LFT results will be required to self-isolate immediately and won’t be required to take a confirmatory PCR test. In teorie, all LFT results, including negative ones, are already supposed to be reported via the government’s test-and-trace system and feed into daily case numbers. In practice, a much smaller proportion of LFT results are reported compared with PCR results, which are automatically entered into the system when processed in the laboratory. Egter, cases are already running far above the numbers being confirmed by PCR testing and the UK is already relying on other methods, such as the Office for National Statistics Infection Survey, to assess levels of prevalence.

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