Boosters next week
32m over-50s and vulnerable will get top-up before Xmas to ‘keep lid’ on virus
BOOSTER jabs will be offered to 32million people before Christmas to ‘keep the lid’ on the pandemic and protect the NHS.
Health officials said yesterday the rapid rollout to all over-50s, the vulnerable and healthcare workers would offer the prospect of a ‘normal winter life’.
Those aged 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe Covid are also eligible, as well as adult household contacts of anyone with a weakened immune system.
The NHS will invite people for their vaccines from today, with appointments starting next week. The process is expected to proceed rapidly to raise the nation’s defences and limit hospitalisations and deaths.
Government advisers have recommended the Pfizer vaccine, regardless of which vaccine people were given for their first doses.
A half dose of Moderna may also be used, but the AstraZeneca jab will only be deployed if patients are allergic to the others.
The Joint Committee on Vaccinabooster tion and Immunisation (JCVI) said the third dose would only be given at least six months after a person received their second jab.
The flu vaccine could also be administered at the same time after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said people could receive one jab in each arm.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons: ‘There is evidence that the protection offered by Covid-19 vaccines reduces over time, particularly among older people who are at greater risk. So doses are an important way of keeping the virus under control for the long term.’
The AstraZeneca vaccine is 95.2 per cent effective at protecting against hospitalisation around two to nine weeks after the second dose, but this drops to 77 per cent after more than 20 weeks.
The equivalent figures for the Pfizer vaccine are 98.4 per cent and 92.7 per cent, new figures from Public Health England show.
It is anticipated that the third dose will give greater and longer lasting protection.
The 5million Britons who are eligible for a vaccine but have not had one were also encouraged to come forward, with Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, criticising anti-vaxxers who ‘peddle untruths’, adding that they ‘should be ashamed’.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, told a Downing Street press briefing: ‘This pandemic is still active. We know this winter could be bumpy and we know winter viruses such as flu are highly likely to make their returns. So the aim of the game – the mantra – is to stay on top of things.’
He stressed that if uptake was good the booster rollout would ‘make a very substantial impact on keeping the lid on things Covidwise, in terms of hospitalisations and deaths and keeping pressure off the NHS this winter’.
Explaining why booster jabs were necessary given the relatively small decrease in immunity months after the second dose, Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of Covid immunisation for the JCVI, said this small drop could still lead to a large rise in hospital admissions.
He added: ‘If we are running at a vaccine effectiveness of, say, 90 per cent, and it drops to 80 per cent, it may not seem like much.
‘But for a certain proportion of people who are being admitted to hospital when vaccine effectiveness is at 90 per cent then you double the drop, you might find you are doubling the number of people who are admitted to hospital.’
However, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, criticised countries that are rolling out mass booster vaccines.
He said there was little evidence of their need beyond people with compromised immune systems and urged governments not to offer them more widely until at least next year.
Dr Ghebreyesus added: ‘There are countries with less than 2 per cent of vaccination coverage, most of them in Africa, who are not even getting the first and second dose. Starting with boosters, especially giving it to healthy populations, is really not right.’
Nick Dearden, director of the campaign group Global Justice Now, said: ‘This is a slap in the face to the billions of people living in countries that cannot access first shots, let alone a third.
‘The UK has persistently pushed low and middle-income countries to the back of the queue, hoarding the world’s limited stocks of vaccines for ourselves.’
He added: ‘Taking even more of them while unvaccinated people in the global south die by the thousand is a disgrace.’
‘This pandemic is still active’
‘Winter could be bumpy’