Covid Vaccines Are Being Restricted This Winter – Even Though Virus Has 'Not Gone Away'

The UK government has accepted the advice of experts to axe booster jabs for under-65s.
A Covid-19 vaccine is prepared at St Charles' Centre for Health and Wellbeing in London.
via Associated Press
A Covid-19 vaccine is prepared at St Charles' Centre for Health and Wellbeing in London.

Top public health officials have admitted that Covid-19 has “not gone away” – nonetheless routine booster vaccines will not be offered to healthy under-65s this autumn to protect them during the winter.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the UK government, said on Tuesday it was restricting the jab to “those at high risk of serious disease”.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said NHS England accepted the advice and other UK nations are expected to follow suit.

So who is eligible?

  • Residents in a care home for older adults
  • All adults aged 65 years and over
  • People aged six months to 64 years in a clinical risk group
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • People aged 12 to 64 who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
  • People aged 16 to 64 who are carers and staff working in care homes for older adults

What’s changed?

Last year everyone over 50 was offered both the Covid and flu jab. The government said in May that people in England under-65 would not be offered flu jabs this winter.

It is thought it now means about 12 million people aged 50 to 64 are no longer eligible for either free flu or Covid-19 vaccines.

Why has it altered?

The PA News agency reported health officials saying that the larger group was offered the booster jab last year as part of the “emergency response” to the pandemic.

But the “success of these programmes has enabled us to live with Covid and, this year, we are able to scale back the number of people who require an autumn booster”, officials said.

Can I buy it privately?

No. The Covid-19 jab is only available on the NHS. So those who were offered the vaccine last year and are not eligible this year will not be able to purchase the jab privately themselves.

What do officials say?

Committee chair Professor Wei Shen Lim said the move was about focusing on those at greatest risk of getting seriously ill: “These persons will benefit the most from a booster vaccination.

“It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn - helping to prevent them from hospitalisations and deaths arising from the virus over the winter months.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, the director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “The Covid-19 virus has not gone away and we expect to see it circulating more widely over the winter months with the numbers of people getting ill increasing.

“The booster is being offered to those at higher risk of severe illness and by taking up the booster vaccine this autumn, you will increase your protection ahead of winter, when respiratory viruses are typically at their peak.”

Health secretary Barclay said: “I have now accepted the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on eligibility for the 2023 autumn booster programme, to protect those most vulnerable from Covid.

“NHS England will confirm details on how and when eligible people can access the autumn booster vaccine shortly, and I would urge anyone invited – including those yet to have their first jab – to come forward as soon as possible.”