In an effort to reduce the risk of future lockdown restrictions in the UK this winter, from September around half the population is to be offered a third coronavirus jab alongside the annual flu vaccine.
All over-50s will be urged to have the jabs as ministers try to “protect freedom” by making sure immunity does not wane during the busiest period for the NHS.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam said that getting through the winter without returning to any kind of lockdown measures was “heavily dependent” on keeping protection from vaccines sufficiently high.
Yesterday the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation confirmed that a “one in each arm” programme would start in September, with ministers hoping it will be delivered largely through high street pharmacies. The JCVI issued interim advice that boosters should begin with offers to health and care workers, the extremely vulnerable and those over 70-years of age.
The programme will then move on to all over-50s and younger people with underlying conditions, with a total of 32 million people eligible in the UK. Offering all under-50s third doses has not been ruled out but is less urgent because immunity is known to last at least six months.
No other country has announced a booster campaign, though it is thought a handful, including the United States, have discussed similar plans with UK officials. Although the JCVI believes jabs targeted against variants may not be available in time for autumn, ministers have not given up hope that a tweaked AstraZeneca jab will be available for winter. The Novavax jab is likely to be used for third doses along with Pfizer and Moderna.