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UK expands COVID-19 vaccine plans as winter approaches

The UK government will offer a booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to all adults aged 40 and a second Pfizer/BioNTech shot for 16- and 17-year-olds

Coronavirus vaccine

The UK government has accepted the recommendations of its vaccine advisory group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), that the COVID vaccine booster campaign should be expanded to include adults in their 40s.

The booster programme has already seen 12.6 million people received a third dose, including the over-50s, front-line medical staff and people with health conditions that put them at greater risk.

Now, all adults aged 40 and over can receive a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine – either Pfizer/BioNTech’s Comirnaty or Moderna’s mRNA-1273 – regardless of which vaccine they received as a primary course. The third dose, a booster jab, should be given six months after the second dose.

The change of policy comes after results from the first real-world study on the effectiveness of the booster jabs were published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The study showed that two weeks after receiving a booster dose protection against symptomatic infection in adults aged 50 years and over was 93.1% in those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine as their primary course and 94% for those who received Comirnaty.

The study also looked at how the effectiveness of the primary course waned over time, noting that protection against severe outcomes such as hospital admission remained high for several months but greater waning was seen in older adults and those with underlying medical conditions.

Announcing the results, Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said: “We know that in older age groups, protection from the first two vaccines is beginning to wear off, leaving millions that need extra protection as we head into winter. That is why it is critical that you come forward for your booster as soon as you become eligible so we can drive down hospitalisations and deaths over the winter.”

Uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in the UK is relatively high, with just under 88% of the population receiving a first dose and 80% receiving two doses.

The government is also following JCVI advice that all 16- and 17-year-olds be offered a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine 12 weeks or more after the first (or 12 weeks following a positive COVID-19 test for those who have been infected by the virus, whichever is later).

The decision was based on a review of the latest evidence on the benefits and risks of the vaccine in the age group and the belief that protection from the first dose ‘will eventually start to decline’. A second dose for teenagers may also reduce the risk of hospitalisation and “onward transmission to vulnerable close contacts”, said the JCVI.

“Booster vaccine doses in more vulnerable adults, and second vaccine doses in 16- and 17-year-olds are important ways to increase our protection against COVID-19 infection and severe disease,” said JCVI COVID-19 chair, Professor Wei Shen Lim. “These vaccinations will also help extend our protection into 2022.”

Article by
Hugh Gosling

16th November 2021

From: Regulatory, Healthcare

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