Covid vaccine booster decision to be made in next few weeks

2 August 2021, 20:36

A Covid-19 booster vaccine programme would see all clinically vulnerable people and those over 50 offered a third Covid jab before Christmas
A Covid-19 booster vaccine programme would see all clinically vulnerable people and those over 50 offered a third Covid jab before Christmas. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

A decision on whether the over-50s will need a third Covid-19 jab is to be set out by vaccination experts in the next few weeks.

The verdict will be announced before September 6, and if the programme is given the green light it is expected that all those over the age of 50 or clinically vulnerable in England will be offered a booster jab before Christmas.

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"The Government is preparing for a booster programme and JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) have published interim advice on who to prioritise for a possible third vaccine from September 2021,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

"The booster programme - which would ensure millions of people most vulnerable to Covid-19 will have the protection they have from first and second doses maintained ahead of the winter and against new variants - will be informed by the JCVI's final advice."

NHS officials have set plans in motion to deliver a joint coronavirus and flu jab campaign in the autumn, but it is not currently known whether a booster jab will be needed.

Ministers are understood to be waiting for further results from the Cov-Boost trial to see which vaccines should be used in the autumn programme.

Experts advising the Government - the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) - will deliver guidance before the programme is due to commence on September 6.

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However, plans for a booster programme have been criticised by some, with Lis Wallace, head of UK advocacy at The ONE Campaign, calling it "alarming" that the Government plans to administer third doses to British people when large swathes of the world remain unvaccinated.

"The real battle to beat Covid and prevent dangerous new variants is now taking place in countries where millions of people are facing deadly new waves of the virus with far less protection, so it's alarming that the Government is choosing to prioritise booster shots," said Ms Wallace.

"With falling infection rates and a successful vaccination programme that means that almost three quarters of British adults are protected, it's vital that the Government sees the bigger picture.

"The only guaranteed way to reduce the risk of new variants undermining the progress that has been made is to get vaccines around the world as soon as possible.

"If we want to end this pandemic at home and abroad, then now is the time to ensure we beat this virus everywhere."

NHS England said in July that health systems should prepare to deliver booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines between September 6 and December 17 as "quickly and safely as possible".

In a letter to senior health leaders, the NHS said results from a number of clinical trials are expected over the summer so plans will need to "flex as new information becomes available".

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In June, the JCVI published new interim guidance setting out the priority list for who should get a third jab if a booster programme is needed.

Around 32 million people would be eligible under the plans, including over 50s, health and care workers, clinically extremely vulnerable people, and those aged 16 to 49 who are usually offered a free NHS flu jab, as well as people who are in regular contact with someone who is immunocompromised.

Pharmacies will play a significant role in the programme for delivering third jabs to help top up immunity levels as GP surgeries resume usual duties as much as possible.

"Pharmacists across the NHS have played a critical role in leading the successful implementation of the Covid-19 vaccination programme,” said Thorrun Govind, chairwoman of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England.

"We'd like to see widespread involvement of community pharmacy in delivering the Covid booster jab and flu jab together, depending on JCVI recommendations.

"Pharmacy has a strong track record of delivery of vaccination programmes, with over 2.7 million flu vaccinations provided last season, and with more than 600 sites delivering Covid-19 vaccinations currently."

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Dr Gary Howsam, vice chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said GPs would "retain a key role" in the booster programme.

"The vaccination is our route out of this pandemic, and the majority of the programme has been delivered in primary care," said Dr Howsam.

"Alongside our pharmacy and other colleagues across the NHS, general practice will retain a key role in the programme. Due to the intense workforce and workload pressures already facing our services, not every practice will be able to get involved in the booster campaign, as they will be focused on other essential care.

"We want to see efforts to ensure high numbers of trained non-clinical vaccinators (are) available to work within general practice, supervised by a smaller number of primary care clinicians, to help to deliver this in the autumn."