The government’s vaccine advisers are considering whether to recommend delaying jabs for healthy younger people who have already had coronavirus, HuffPost UK understands.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on who should be prioritised for inoculations, rejected the approach for phase one of the rollout, which covers those most vulnerable to Covid.
But it is considering whether it may be appropriate to delay jabs for healthy younger people who have already acquired immunity through infection, once all over-50s and the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.
Conservative former minister Robert Goodwill told HuffPost UK that healthy younger people who have had Covid and recovered should be at the “back of the queue” for vaccinations, as in Israel.
HuffPost UK understands JCVI did not recommend an Israel-style approach for phase one because it would have been logistically difficult and there was very little information at the time about how long people stay protected after infection.
But last month, a Public Health England (PHE) study found that people infected with the virus are likely to be safe against reinfection for several months, although it cautioned that those with immunity could still pass on the virus, as they may still be able to carry it in their nose and throats.
On Wednesday, research from UK Biobank, found that antibodies last for at least six months after infection for the majority of people who have had Covid.
According to the study, 99% of participants who had tested positive for previous infection retained coronavirus antibodies for three months after being infected, while 88% did so for the full six months of the study.
Researchers say this indicates antibodies produced following natural infection may provide a degree of protection for most people against getting infected again for at least six months.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has meanwhile estimated that one in seven people in private households in England, around 6.9m people or 15.3% of the population, have already had Covid.
Goodwill said that once the over-50s and most vulnerable are vaccinated, prioritising doses for people who have not had Covid would be a more efficient way of ensuring more of the population is protected, and to bring hospitalisations and deaths down.
The Scarborough and Whitby MP told HuffPost UK: “Once we get into the rest of society, my view is that there is a strong argument that anyone who has had the disease and had a positive test should not be prioritised in terms of vaccinating the low-risk groups.
“You could more quickly achieve levels of herd immunity, or certainly reduce the level of transmission if you say to people who are under-50 and with no pre-existing medical condition: ‘Do not present for vaccination if you’ve had it and had a positive test.’
“We will vaccinate you in autumn probably but in the meantime it’s likely that your level of immunity will be comparable to people who have had the vaccine.
“So let’s not waste vaccinations on people who are already immune by virtue of being infected.”
Boris Johnson, who was in intensive care with Covid last April, said he was “bursting with antibodies” during a stint of self isolation after coming into contact with an infected person in November.
Goodwill said: “Why vaccinate somebody who’s already bursting with antibodies?
“Or why prioritise them when you’ve got other people, who are very unlikely to be seriously ill and die, but there is a possibility?
“If we have however many millions of people who have had the disease let’s ask them to join the back of the queue for vaccinations so that people who haven’t been infected can get protection more quickly.”
The government has pledged to offer a first vaccine dose to people in priority groups 1 to 4 by February 15, with groups 5 to 9 to follow.
The JCVI will then make recommendations for vaccine priority for the rest of society.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Over 10m of the most at risk people have now received the first dose of the vaccine and we are on track to meet our target of offering a first dose to every person in the top four priority groups by mid-February.
“The independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will provide advice to the government on the second phase of the vaccine rollout programme in due course.”