Want A Covid Booster? You Might Need To Pay Up

Private vaccines for those not eligible for a free NHS booster may soon be on the cards.
Peter Byrne - PA Images via Getty Images

Not too long ago, the government was urging absolutely everyone to accept every Covid jab they were offered.

But as time went on, lockdowns and restrictions were lifted, and getting the Covid injection slipped down the national list of priorities.

Now, despite an uptick in infections due to the new variant Eris, the jabs’ manufacturers are considering making Covid booster shots privately available – but they won’t be cheap.

Who can get the jab on the NHS?

The group of people eligible to get it through the health care system has decreased again this year, as the minimum age has been raised from 50 to 65 for adults.

Children aged between 6 months and 4 years who are at increased risk of getting seriously ill from Covid are also eligible.

The NHS website adds that anyone “at increased risk of getting seriously ill” may be able to get a season vaccine this autumn, according to any health conditions they may have.

But, the health service will contact you if you’re on their list.

That means around 12 million fewer people are entitled to a free jab this year.

So, Moderna and Pfizer, suppliers of the jab, have said that supplying the NHS is the priority – but Moderna is “exploring the possibly and viability” of providing jabs for private sales.

How can you buy the Covid jab?

Don’t get your hopes up just yet – it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to buy them in time for the autumn. They might be available come next year, spring time at the earliest.

And, it’s probably going to be quite expensive, so don’t start budgeting for a jab the same price as a £15-20 flu vaccine.

In March, Moderna’s chief executive Stephane Bancel told Reuters that his company will probably charge $130 per Covid vaccine dose in the US when it moves to the private sector.

That’s because production will be on a lower-scale than it was at the height of the pandemic, bumped up the price.

There’s a chance Covid jabs could be marketed as travel vaccine, too.

A source told The Times there is “some interest from travel medicine providers” around the jab going private.

What does this mean about how the UK approaches Covid?

After the UK Health Security Agency gave the green light to manufacturers to offer the jabs privately, it was seen as yet another step towards normalising the illness.

It’s a stark contrast to December 2020, when the jabs were first rolled out and hailed for being a turning point for the UK’s response to Covid (as well as free at the point of delivery). Scientific advisers also suggested who would be eligible for the jabs at the time, hence the staggered rollout.

Others are pleased that the jabs will be available outside the NHS, because it means more people might be able to have them even if they’re not eligible via the health service.

Professor Adam Finn of the University of Bristol and part of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told The Times in a private capacity: “A private market goes some way towards solving things for people at low risk but who are at the other end and want the protection that vaccines offer.

“It’s not perfect because it requires them to pay and some may not have access to the funds. But it does help improve the options that are available.”

However, there is a risk of pricing out those from a lower income, too – and those might be people with jobs where there’s a reduced chance of working from home, making individuals more likely to be exposed to infection.

There’s also the current economic woes to factor in as well: how many people will be willing to spend money on a Covid jab amid the cost of living crisis?

What do we know about Covid infections at the moment?

It may not feel like it, but Covid is definitely still a problem, it’s just one we know a little more about dealing with now.

Infections have also started ticking up again recently due to the Eris variant, or EG.5. This may be due to the grumpy weather we saw throughout July which meant people stayed in enclosed places with little air circulation.

UKHSA shows 3 in 100,000 people in the population were in hospital with Covid in the week up to August 13 – the week before, it was 2 in 100,000 people.

That’s still a long way off the 10 per 100,000 hospital admission rate seen in March this year, and in January 2021, when it was 36 per 100,000.

But, as Professor David Strain from the University of Exeter’s Medical School told the BBC: “This is not a reason to panic but it’s just being aware that this is going around. So for the vast majority of us who are fully vaccinated, this is no more risky than a bad case of flu.”

As Dr David Matthews, reader in virology at the University of Bristol, told HuffPost UK back in 2021 it’s important to get the latest vaccine to help make sure you’re immunised against the latest Covid strains – but, that might not always be the case.

He said: “Over your lifetime, you lay down an immune memory – so every disease you fight, you lay down a memory, to one degree or another, of that fight and what to do,

“And that means when you meet the disease again, the chance is your immune system will remember the fight and will be responsive and faster – therefore the infection can’t do as much damage before the immune system can get on top of it.”