Britain starts planning for vaccine booster shots from September

The plan would see booster vaccines given to the elderly and most at risk first

A woman receives a Covid-19 vaccination in London, England
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Britain is starting to plan for a Covid-19 vaccine booster campaign alongside the flu vaccine from September to ensure protection does not wane in winter.

The government said that a final decision on whether a vaccine booster campaign was needed had not been made, but officials have advised that preparations should begin on a precautionary basis.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said there should be a plan to offer Covid-19 booster vaccines from September, starting with people aged 70 and over, care home residents and those who are immunosuppressed or vulnerable.

The booster shot would be offered alongside the flu vaccine, which will probably mean receiving an injection in each arm.

All adults aged over 18 would be invited to receive the shots in the second stage of the booster campaign after vulnerable groups are protected.

Prof Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chairman of the JVCI, said a booster campaign may be needed to protect the NHS during its busiest time of the year.

"The JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be required, a third Covid-19 vaccine dose should be offered to the most vulnerable first, starting from September 2021 to maximise individual protection and safeguard the NHS ahead of winter," he said.

"Almost all these people would also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and are strongly advised to have the flu vaccine ... We will continue to review emerging scientific data over the next few months, including data relating to the duration of immunity from the current vaccines."

He cautioned that the committee's final advice on a booster campaign "may change substantially".

Britain has given 85 per cent of adults a first Covid-19 shot, with more than 60 per cent receiving two doses.

The success of the vaccine roll out has seen Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledge to lift lockdown restrictions on July 19, even as cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant rise.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the booster campaign would "protect freedom".

"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," he said.

Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said that getting through the winter without returning to lockdown measures was “heavily dependent” on keeping protection from vaccines high.

Data suggests that the current vaccines provide protection for at least six months, with more studies focused on the length of immunity and the effectiveness of booster shots expected in the coming months.

The benefits of booster shots for younger people, many of whom are still getting their first and second shots, would be considered at a later date, the JCVI said.

Who would get a booster?

According to Public Health England, In Stage 1 of a potential booster vaccination programme for 2021 to 2022, the following groups should be offered a booster dose and the flu vaccine from September:

  • adults aged 16 years and over who are immunosuppressed
  • those living in residential care homes for older adults
  • all adults aged 70 years or over
  • adults aged 16 years and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable
  • frontline health and social care workers

In Stage 2, the following groups should be offered a booster dose as soon as practicable after Stage 1, with equal emphasis on the flu vaccine where eligible:

  • all adults aged 50 years 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
Updated: July 01, 2021, 1:20 PM