Health secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed plans are in place to offer Covid booster jabs from this autumn
The booster rollout is set to begin in September, Javid said during a hospital visit to Milton Keynes this week, although the government is still waiting on final advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
“When we get that advice we will be able to start the booster programme, but I anticipate it will begin in early September, so I’m already making plans for that,” the health secretary said.
“It’s really important that when we start that programme, the sort of first cohorts, the ones that got the jabs early on when we started our programme – the first in the world back in December last year – that those cohorts come first and so we will be prioritising it,” he added.
More than 75% of UK adults are now double vaccinated – and Javid stressed the success of the programme so far in the fight against Coivd.
“This wall of defence that the vaccines have created is working,” he said. “It’s massively reduced hospitalisations, deaths from Covid are mercifully low and that’s because of our vaccination programme.”
Here’s what you need to know about his autumn plans for booster jabs.
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Why do we need booster jabs?
With social restrictions relaxed, booster jabs are designed to protect us during the winter when Covid could circulate through the population alongside other illnesses such as the flu.
“The timing and magnitude of potential influenza and SARS-CoV2 (Covid-19) infection waves for winter 2021 to 2022 are currently unknown,” the JCVI said of uncertainty over how virulent the virus may be later in the year.
We already know people require two doses of the Covid vaccine for the best level of protection. That protection remains strong for a minimum of three months up to six months (for the Pfizer jab in particular), but it’s seemed increasingly likely a booster will be needed for at least the most vulnerable.
Sajid Javid previously said of boosters: “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.”
When are we likely to get our booster?
The booster jab rollout is set to begin in early September and run through until December. It will be offered in two stages, according the interim plan set out by the JCVI.
Those who will be offered the jab in stage one are:
- adults aged 16 and over who are immunosuppressed
- care home residents
- all adults aged 70 or over
- adults aged 16 and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable
- frontline health and social care workers.
- all adults aged 50 and over
- all adults aged 16 to 49 years who are in an influenza or Covid-19 at-risk group
- adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
The JCVI said plans for vaccinating other groups such as healthy adults under 50 have not been laid out yet.
Have booster jabs been tested?
Trials have been underway to figure out what kind of boosting regime would work best. Thousands of volunteers received a Covid vaccine booster in trials over the summer that tested seven different vaccines to see the impact of a third dose on patients’ immune responses.
The Cov-Boost study, led by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, was backed by £19.3m of government funding.
When former health secretary Matt Hancock launched the trial in May, he said that results were expected by September.
How can you get your booster jab?
If the booster jab is rolled out the plan is for it to be done alongside the regular flu jab that the public are used to getting.
Those eligible for the booster jab will be invited to take the vaccine in the priority order set out by the JCVI. Like the flu jab, you’ll be able to get the booster at your pharmacy or your GP.
Is there any disagreement over boosters?
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard of the Oxford Vaccine Group believes that rather than a vaccine booster programme, vaccine stockpiles might be better used in countries where vulnerable people are yet to be vaccinated.
Data so far suggests that Covid vaccines are holding out against the virus and protecting the double-jabbed from severe disease and death, Prof Pollard told MPs, adding that “the decision to boost or not” should be scientifically driven.
“The time which we would need to boost is if we saw evidence that there was an increase in hospitalisation or people dying amongst those who are vaccinated. That is not something that we’re seeing at the moment,” he said.
Doctors are not witnessing a problem with severe breakthrough cases of Covid, Prof Pollard added, and even if protection wanes, “we’re not going to get to the end of September and suddenly find that the pandemic starts again. If there was any fall-off in protection it is something which will happen gradually, and it will happen at a point where we can pick it up and be able to respond.”