The autumn Covid-19 booster vaccine programme is now in full swing in England and Scotland.
The programme will look a little different this time around, with “next generation” vaccines available for those who are eligible.
Since September 5, people aged 75 and over, the severely immunosuppressed, and frontline health and care workers have been able to book a booster – with some 1.6 million people eligible in this group.
From Monday 12 in England, those aged 65 and over, carers, and anyone who is pregnant, can also book their booster online or via 111.
In the coming weeks, more than 26 million people in England will be able to access the new vaccine, which has been developed to fight the current and dominant Omicron variants, as well as the original virus.
Here’s what you need to know about the rollout.
Who is eligible for the vaccine?
Anyone over the age of 65, health and care workers, carers, those with weakened immune systems and people who are pregnant are now eligible to book a vaccine through the National Booking Service.
People who have poor mobility or chronic health conditions who aren’t able to go out can be vaccinated at home, while teams will also go to care homes to give jabs to residents and staff members.
By the end of the rollout in England, another Covid jab will have been offered to:
- frontline health and social care workers
- care home residents and staff
- adults aged 50 and over
- people aged five to 49 with health conditions that put them at higher risk
- pregnant women
- carers aged 16 to 49
- household contacts of people with weakened immune systems
Scotland’s autumn booster rollout also began on September 5, targeting care home residents and frontline health and social care workers, while Wales is also already offering boosters to care home residents and staff.
Northern Ireland’s rollout will begin on September 19, with similar targeting.
What about children?
At first, plans suggested the vaccine would only be offered to anyone over the age of 65 but the programme has expanded due to the spread of Omicron. However, the rollout will prioritise the older and more vulnerable.
Young people in England with high risk health conditions who are over the age of 16 or 12-to-15 years old and had both their first and second jabs can apply for a booster.
Children aged five and older are no longer eligible for a vaccine outright (the cutoff date was turning five by August 31, 2022), but those who turned five on or after 1 September 2022 are still able get their first and second jabs if they are at high risk or living with someone who has a weakened immune system.
What is the new vaccine?
Two new bivalent vaccines have been approved for use in the autumn rollout.
In each dose of the vaccines, half of the vaccine will target the original virus strain, whilst the other half will target Omicron. Bivalent vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer have been approved.
Information from a clinical trial found that a booster dose with the bivalent Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine triggers a strong immune response against both Omicron and the original strain.
Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, previously said the new jab can boost a person’s antibodies to such high levels it may only be needed annually.
Currently though, there aren’t enough Moderna’s bivalent vaccine to protect everyone aged over 50, so health officials say those eligible should take whichever booster they are offered.
“It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn, whichever vaccine is on offer,” Professor Wei Shen Lim said. This will increase your protection against being severely ill from Covid-19 as we move into winter.”
The flu jab will also be offered to more eligible groups this winter, some people will be offered it at the same time as their Covid vaccine.
So, how do you book a booster?
From September 7, millions of invitations will be landing on doormats, encouraging people to book their appointment. The NHS will contact people who are eligible when it’s their time to book.
NHS director for vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said: “The NHS will contact you when it is your turn to get an autumn booster and will be inviting the first people outside of a care home to book in ahead of the formal rollout in early September – please book in as quickly as possible when invited to give yourself protection this winter.”
The NHS is continuing to advise local sites to allow immunosuppressed patients to go to walk-ins to make it easy for people to get the jab.