The over-70s and frontline health and social care workers should be among those first to receive a booster Covid jab from September, the government’s expert vaccine panel has said.
Under the interim plan set out on Wednesday by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), millions of people most vulnerable to the virus would get a third dose ahead of the winter.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said the advice would “ensure we are ready in our preparations for autumn”.
“We need to learn to live with this virus. Our first Covid-19 vaccination programme is restoring freedom in this country, and our booster programme will protect this freedom,” he said.
“We are working with the NHS to make sure we can rapidly deliver this programme to maintain protection for people in the winter months.”
Step one of current JCVI plan would see the following groups offered a Covid booster jab and the flu vaccine “as soon as possible” from September.
- adults aged 16 years and over who are immunosuppressed;
- those living in residential care homes for older adults;
- all adults aged 70 years or over;
- adults aged 16 years and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable;
- frontline health and social care workers.
Step two would see the following groups offered a booster “as soon as practicable” after step one.
- all adults aged 50 years and over
- all adults aged 16 – 49 years who are in an influenza or Covid-19 at-risk group
- adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
Final advice from the JCVI on how a booster jab programme should be rolled out will be given to ministers before September.
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said being able to manage Covid with “fewer or no restrictions” was “now heavily dependent on the continued success of the vaccination programme”.
“We want to be on the front foot for Covid-19 booster vaccination to keep the probability of loss of vaccine protection due to waning immunity or variants as low as possible. Especially over the coming autumn and winter,” he said.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid chairman for the committee, said: “The JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be required, a third Covid-19 vaccine dose should be offered to the most vulnerable first, starting from September 2021 to maximise individual protection and safeguard the NHS ahead of winter.
“Almost all these people would also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and are strongly advised to have the flu vaccine.
“We will continue to review emerging scientific data over the next few months, including data relating to the duration of immunity from the current vaccines. Our final advice on booster vaccination may change substantially.”
Officials will know more when they get results from the CovBoost trial, which is expected to report back in August.
Experts previously said it was too early to say whether other people not listed in Stage 1 or Stage 2 will need a Covid-19 vaccine booster this winter.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the vaccination programme was weakening the link between cases and hospitalisations.
An analysis by Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge suggested vaccines have so far prevented an estimated 7.2 million infections and 27,000 deaths in England alone.