A booster COVID-19 vaccine may be offered from September 2021 to the most vulnerable people in the UK to ensure protection continues over the winter season. This is based on interim advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The JCVI explained that this plan is intended to prolong the protection the initial two vaccine doses provide. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) explained that evidence shows that two doses of any COVID-19 vaccine provide strong protection from becoming seriously ill from coronavirus for at least six months. However, as with the flu, winter will likely result in a rise in cases and more pressure on the NHS, the DHSC added.
Deputy chief medical officer for England, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said: “The announcement of interim advice from JCVI is good news. It shows that the vaccine experts are thinking carefully about how best to use vaccination to protect the most vulnerable and ensure everyone’s lives can remain as normal as possible for the autumn and winter.
“Of course, we have to be driven by data, and there will be more data from vaccine booster studies for JCVI to look at over summer, so we should all remember that this advice is interim and might change between now and September.”
The interim advice from the JCVI suggests a two-stage booster programme alongside the flu vaccination programme. In the first stage, a third dose COVID-19 booster vaccine would be offered to anyone over the age of 70, those living in care homes for older people and front line health and social care workers. Anyone over the age of 16 whose immune system is suppressed or who is considered clinically extremely vulnerable will also be offered the booster.
In the second stage, adults over the age of 50 and those who are household contacts of a person with a suppressed immune system would be invited for a booster. As well as this, anyone over 16 who was outlined in one of the government’s at-risk groups for the flu or COVID-19 will also be invited. This includes people with epilepsy, who were included in priority group 6 during the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
The JCVI’s final advice and the ultimate decision on whether this will go ahead is yet to be made, and will be given before September. It will take into account the situation at the time, more data from booster trials and information about the effectiveness of the vaccines on newer variants of the virus.
The DHSC said the latest analysis from Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge suggests the vaccines so far have prevented an estimated 7.2 million infections and 27,000 deaths in England.
PHE data also shows that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against severe symptoms from the Delta COVID-19 variant. The analysis suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalisation after two doses. The Moderna vaccine is also 94.1% effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).