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UK announces COVID boosters for a “bumpy winter” ahead

A single shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will be offered to 30 million people in the UK including those 50 or over and frontline health and social care workers

Following results from a trial into booster jabs, 30 million people across the four countries of the UK will be offered a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine six months after their second.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said the decision to launch a booster programme was made on the advice of the country’s expert panel, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

He pointed to signs that the vaccines’ effectiveness may decrease in vulnerable groups. “There is evidence that the protection offered by Covid-19 vaccines reduces over time, particularly older people who are at greater risk, so booster doses are an important way of keeping the virus under control for the long term,” he said.

In addition to anyone 50 or over, those eligible for a booster jab include residents in care homes, frontline health and social care workers, those aged 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions and adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.

The government is already offering booster shots to half a million people who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Recent data from the Office of National Statistics showed that the unvaccinated accounted for around 99% of all deaths involving COVID-19 in England in the first half of this year. To date, 89% of the population over the age of 16 have received a first dose of a vaccine and 81% are fully vaccinated.

The JCVI issued advice back in June that the booster programme should be started in September but until now the government has not confirmed that it will follow its own expert advice. It said that it was still unclear how much protection does slip, but it wanted to take a precautionary approach and ensure the most vulnerable people maintain high levels of protection.

The JCVI advice is based on trials that have been carried out in the UK, which showed that the Pfizer vaccine was well-tolerated and effective against old and new variants of the virus regardless of which COVID vaccine had been given for the first two doses.

Where the Pfizer vaccine is unavailable, a half-dose of Moderna can be used and for anyone unable to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines due to allergies, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used.

The expert committee recommended a gap of at least six months after the second dose and that the flu vaccine can be given at the same time as a booster jab, where practical.

Chair of JCVI, Professor Wei Shen Lim, said the vaccine programme had been very successful at protecting against serious disease and death. “The main aim of the booster programme is to prolong that protection and reduce serious disease as we head towards the colder months.”

The booster scheme is part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Plan A” for the upcoming winter. This plan also includes promoting jabs for the unvaccinated (including to those aged 12-15) and testing.

However, the government has a “Plan B” involving stringent and mandated restrictions including vaccine passports, face coverings and home working.

Article by
Hugh Gosling

15th September 2021

From: Research, Healthcare

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