MORE than 30 million Brits are set to get a Covid booster vaccine, with rollout starting in the next few days.
All those under the original priority groups one to nine will be eligible for a third shot, as early as six months after their second dose.
It means over 50s, over 16s with an underlying health condition, and health and social care workers will be offered a booster.
The advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) also says giving a third Covid vaccine shot with a flu vaccine is safe.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said today: "The aim of the game is to stay on top of things."
At a Downing Street press conference, he said vaccines had been “incredibly successful” and had so far prevented an estimated 24 million Covid-19 cases and 112,000 deaths.
"But we also know that this pandemic is still active," Prof Van-Tam warned.
"We are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still."
Scientists deem one additional dose of Pfizer as the most effective booster and preferred choice – regardless of what type of vaccine people had originally – based on current research.
Alternatively, a half dose of the Moderna vaccine – which uses the same technology as Pfizer (mRNA) – may also be given.
Experts say the antibody response against Covid is “very good” after a third shot.
But it’s not clear how much more protection it will give against severe Covid disease, given two doses are already more than 90 per cent effective, even against the Delta strain.
The move is part of the Government’s Covid winter plan for "living with the virus" through the next few months.
Controlling the fourth wave will be focused on driving up protection from vaccines, as opposed to using draconian lockdown-style measures.
But the recommendation does not imply a booster will be necessary every six months of the year moving forward.
It is considered vital at this point of the pandemic, when Covid cases are high moving into the winter and immunity has already waned in the priority groups who were jabbed first.
Who will get booster shots?
The JCVI is advising that booster vaccines be offered to those more at risk from serious disease, and who were vaccinated during Phase 1 of the vaccine programme (priority groups 1 to 9).
- those living in residential care homes for older adults
- all adults aged 50 years or over
- frontline health and social care workers
- all those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19
- adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 Immunisation for the JCVI, said: "The main aim of the booster programme is to prolong that protection and reduce serious disease as we head towards the colder months.
"The JCVI is advising that a booster dose be offered to the more vulnerable, to maximise individual protection ahead of an unpredictable winter.
"Most of these people will also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and we strongly advise them to take up this offer as well.”
As most younger adults will only have gotten their second Covid vaccine by late summer, they are unlikely to benefit from a booster right now.
Boosters for protection
The booster campaign plan comes after Downing Street received the final advice on the issue from the JCVI after months of debate.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid will set out the details of the plan when he unveils the Government's winter Covid plan for England in a Commons statement on Tuesday.
It will be followed by a Downing Street press briefing this evening, led by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Ministers believe the booster campaign will help ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed by new cases of the disease as it moves into the autumn and winter.
The PM remains determined to avoid another lockdown, with Downing Street insisting it will only be considered as a "last resort".
Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said he hopes the booster programme will be the “final piece of the jigsaw” in reducing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is probably the last piece of the jigsaw to allow us to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic…
"I hope by next year we will be in a position to deal with this virus with an annual inoculation programme as we do flu.”
Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said boosters would “give an extra leg up” to the most vulnerable.
He told BBC Breakfast “it’s not just going to be coronavirus that’s causing us trouble” this winter, and third doses “make a difference for a few people that are frail and elderly and have high risks”.
However, there has been a mixed response from scientists, with some arguing the priority should be to get the jab to countries with scarce doses.
A review published in The Lancet this week found protection against the virus, including Delta, is so high that the general public don’t need top-up doses.
Lead author Dr Ana-Maria Henao-Restrepo, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “If vaccines are deployed where they would do the most good, they could hasten the end of the pandemic by inhibiting further evolution of variants.”
Jabs for kids
Meanwhile, 12 to 15-year olds in England will now be offered the Covid vaccine, the Government announced on Monday.
The Pfizer vaccine will be given to young teenagers following advice from the chief medical officers of the four devolved nations of the UK.
The JCVI had previously advised against it because there was a very fine line between benefits and risks, but said it had not considered wider factors such as children’s mental health from missing school.
In their advice the medical officers stressed the impact of missed schooling due to Covid on children's education and mental wellbeing.
But the latest move has triggered a row over who consents for a young teen to get vaccinated.
In a Commons statement, the Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said parental consent would be sought before the vaccine was administered.
In the "rare event" that a parent declined but the child wanted the jab anyway, there would be a procedure to enable them to receive it if they were deemed "competent".
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