Booster jabs for people aged 50 years and over, younger people with certain health conditions, and front-line health and social care workers will ‘protect the most vulnerable through the winter months’

Elderly vaccine

A programme of COVID-19 booster vaccinations will begin next week, England’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed. Similar plans were announced for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

People aged 50 years and over, younger people with certain health conditions, and front-line health and social care workers will be offered a further jab.

The announcement follows recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published on 14 September 2021.

Announcing details of the Government’s COVID-19 winter plan, Mr Javid told MPs that the decision had been made following ‘evidence that the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines reduces over time, particularly [in] older people who are at greater risk’.

He said that the programme would ‘protect the most vulnerable through the winter months and strengthen our wall of defence even further’.

mRNA vaccines 

The JCVI said that its preference was for eligible people to be offered an mRNA vaccine—preferably a full dose of Pfizer/BioNTech or, alternatively, half a dose of Moderna, regardless of which vaccine they had previously received.

A booster dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine was not ruled out.

Announcing the decision at a news conference in Downing Street, Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI Chair, said that they had been mindful of the suggestion that vaccine protection could wane over time.

He said that the Pfizer vaccine was selected because ‘it is well tolerated, and it has a good effect’.

Six-month interval 

People will be eligible for a booster dose no sooner than 6 months after they received their second dose.

The boosters may be administered simultaneously with the annual influenza vaccination where the NHS is able to do so, the JCVI said.

England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said that the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme had averted in the region of 24 million cases, and around 112,000 deaths. However, he warned that this winter ‘could quite possibly be bumpy at times’, with the additional threats of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

The JCVI advice is separate from a recent recommendation for boosters in people with severely weakened immune systems.

Those eligible for boosters include:

  • people living in residential care homes for older adults
  • all adults aged 50 years or over
  • front-line health and social care workers
  • people aged 16–49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19
  • adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.

The development follows an announcement yesterday that ministers had approved a recommendation by all four UK medical officers to offer a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to children aged 12–15 years.

Pandemic ‘far from over’: PM 

In a statement, the Prime Minister warned: ‘The pandemic is far from over but, thanks to our phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments, and testing, we are able to live with the virus without significant restrictions on our freedoms’.

At a news conference in Downing Street, alongside the Government’s Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty and the Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Boris Johnson explained that the Government is sticking to its strategy: ‘In essence, we’re going to keep going. We will continue to offer testing, we’ll continue to urge everyone to be sensible, to be responsible, wash your hands, use ventilation, consider wearing a face covering in crowded places with people that you don’t know, stay at home, [and] if you feel unwell, download and use the app’. But he said that there was also a ‘Plan B’, which had been outlined by Mr Javid in the Commons.

This could include mandatory face masks and social distancing advice, whereas vaccine passports would be a power held in reserve.

For now, Sir Patrick Vallance said that immunity from vaccines is waning, but still preventing death and hospitalisation.

He told the Downing Street news conference: ‘The waning of immunity is clear. It’s greater for infection than it is for the waning against hospitalisations and deaths, so they’re holding up very well’.

Professor Chris Whitty said that hospitalisations will be a factor when considering whether restrictions are needed. ‘A gradual drift up is one thing; if you suddenly saw a very rapid increase, then you have to consider taking earlier action.’

Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister for Vaccine Deployment, told Sky News earlier: ‘What we’re trying to do at the moment is to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic through a massive vaccination programme’.

He said that further lockdowns would be a last resort.

Ruth Rankine, Director of Primary Care at the NHS Confederation, welcomed today’s announcement after ‘weeks of uncertainty’.

She added: ‘However, this comes on the back of yesterday’s announcement about vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds, so we must also acknowledge the amount of time and investment that will be needed to deliver both these programmes alongside the flu vaccination programme, set against what is already an extremely busy time, with primary care seeing a huge increase in demand coupled with increasingly complex cases, and managing patients waiting for secondary care treatment’.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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