Tens of millions of Britons will start to be offered a third Covid jab in as little as two months under fresh guidance issued by No10’s top advisers tonight.
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) said the booster scheme should start in September and third doses should be given to 32million over-50s, vulnerable Britons and NHS and care home staff.
The rollout will happen over two stages – prioritising those most at risk of Covid – and patients will be given a third dose of whatever brand of vaccine they were originally immunised with.
It will coincide with the rollout of an influenza jab programme, which health officials have said will be vital this winter as the NHS prepares for a potentially difficult flu season.
The interim plans have been drawn up to ensure the NHS is prepared for any possible booster jab campaign while officials await more data on whether a third vaccine is required to bolster protection over the winter months.
Ministers are expected to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the programme in the coming weeks.
Newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he ‘welcomed’ the new guidance, which will ‘help us ensure we are ready in our preparations for autumn’.
And Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said scientists aimed to be on the ‘front foot’ in the fight against Covid.
It comes after Britain recorded more than 20,000 cases for the third day in a row today, but deaths continued to drop in a sure sign the vaccines are working.
There are fears, however, that fading immunity levels in older people who were vaccinated around months ago could lead to a spike in hospitalisations and deaths.
No10’s top scientists are considering a Covid ‘booster’ vaccination programme from September. Pictured: A woman receives her jab in Doncaster
The JCVI guidance published today sets out that a ‘booster’ dosing programme would proceed in two stages from September.
In stage one, over-70s and those who are vulnerable, care home residents and NHS workers will be offered the jabs. There are more than 15illion people in this group.
Gloomy SAGE adviser calls for Freedom Day to be delayed until children are jabbed
A doomster SAGE adviser has called for all children to be vaccinated before the UK ditches its remaining lockdown curbs, despite hospitalisations and deaths remaining flat in the face of rising case numbers.
Britain is currently on track to give all adults at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of July, according to officials, but it could take three more months just to give one jab to the 14million under-18s in the UK.
The vaccine rollout is expected to drop to 150,000 first doses a day in the next few months because of shortages in the supply of Pfizer and Moderna’s jabs and because the AstraZeneca vaccine is not being given to young people.
Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, insisted today that the ‘safest time’ to reopen fully would be after all children have had a jab.
The SAGE adviser, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said secondary school children at the very least have to have at least one jab before Britain can irreversibly leave lockdown.
He said without a nationwide rollout to children, there would continue to be ‘disruptions’ affecting children at school, including mass testing and bubbles, and a risk that pupils pass it to their parents and grandparents.
The rollout would then be expanded to over-50s and those who live with vulnerable people, accounting for more than 17million people.
Sources suggested it was unlikely booster doses would be offered to younger age groups this winter because they were inoculated in the summer.
Over-30s were only invited for their first dose on June 7, while the rollout was only opened to over-18s on June 30. There is a lag of between eight to twelve weeks between both doses.
The booster programme would only see Britons offered one jab if they are invited for a dose. It will be run alongside the annual flu inoculation drive.
The NHS is understood to be already preparing for the programme, to ensure it has enough jabs available should ministers give it the green light in the late summer.
At least four other countries including the United States are also considering booster programmes, sources said, but they are also yet to take a decision.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s Covid chairman, said: ‘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.
‘We will continue to review emerging scientific data over the next few months, including data relating to the duration of immunity from the current vaccines.’
He added that their final advice on the booster programme ‘may change substantially’.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said scientists aimed to be on the ‘front foot’ in the fight against Covid.
He said: ‘We want to be on the front foot for Covid 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.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said a booster programme will ‘protect this freedom’
He also called on Britons to get their flu jabs, adding: ‘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.
Newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘We welcome this interim advice, which will help us ensure we are ready in our preparations for autumn. We look forward to receiving the committee’s final advice in due course.
‘Our first Covid-19 vaccination programme is restoring freedom in this country, and our booster programme will protect this freedom.
‘We are working with the NHS to make sure we can rapidly deliver this programme to maintain protection for people in the winter months.’
Dr David Elliman, a consultant in child health who is not on the JCVI, warned that the JCVI advice could change substantially before September.
‘The advice seems very sensible IF we are going to offer boosters to all adults,’ he told the Science Media Centre.
‘However, that begs the question as to whether they are needed and, if so, should they be given.
‘At the moment there is little clinical or laboratory evidence that boosters are needed and JCVI has understandably not committed itself yet.
‘If a booster is needed, exactly how much benefit would it give and would it justify the resources?’
Some scientists have called on ministers to shelve plans for a booster programme when large corners of the world are still to be inoculated.
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