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Booster Jabs To Be Offered To All Over-50s, The Clinically Extremely Vulnerable And Health And Care Staff This Winter

The government's vaccine advisors have approved a booster programme to deliver third jabs to the over 50s this winter (Alamy)

4 min read

Boosters of the coronavirus vaccine can be offered to the over 50s this winter after approval by the government's medical advisors.

Those who live in care homes, as well as frontline health and social care workers, will be offered an extra jab of the Pfizer/BioNTech version, which is also safe to be given alongside the usual annual flu jab.

Everyone in the clinically extremely vulnerable category, and anyone aged 16 to 65 in an at-risk group group for Covid-19, will also be eligible for an additional dose.

Around 30 million are expected to be administered, with the rollout expected to start within days, with England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan telling a Downing Street briefing: "Double jabs can start now, subject to the availability of both products.

"The MHRA has looked at the data from the trials on giving flu in one arm and Covid in the other at the same time and the antibody response to both of those vaccines is not impaired by doing so, and the tolerability of doing that at the same time is also fine.

"I would add that there is a practical reality to add on top, which is for the NHS to consider in more detail and it may not always be the case that it is possible to co-administer those two vaccines in every single patient."

Asked why booster jabs are necessary, considering there is only a small decrease in immunity months after the second dose, he compared it to campers preparing their tents for a storm.

"I don't know if many of you are used to crawling into small tents on mountainsides?" he replied to reporters.

"But if you do so and you know there's a storm blowing in the night, it's better to put some extra guy ropes on there and then, than it is to wait until the middle of the night when it's howling with wind and rain, and you've got to get out of your tent and make your tent secure.

"By the time you crawl back in, you're soaking wet. So it's better to be pre-emptive and to be prepared and plan for the worst possibilities."

A decision on whether to extend the programme to healthy people under the age of 50 will be made when there is more data.

The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) has approved three vaccines for the booster programme, but have opted for the one from Pfizer as a preference.

At the announcement this morning it was confirmed the Moderna version may be used as an alternative, but as a half-dose. AstraZeneca shots should be considered for patients who cannot have the mRNA type of jabs.

People should receive their third booster dose at least six months after they received their second, said professor Wei Shem Lin from the JCVI, saying that was the "speet spot" in terms of timing.

"We want to suggest a six-month limit as a lower limit because we don't want people to feel they need to rush to have this booster dose," he told the press conference.

"Getting a booster dose too early might mean getting a dose when they don't actually need to have vaccination because they still have a high level of protection.

"And, as we have seen with the first and second dose, it may be that a longer interval to the third booster dose may actually be beneficial in the longer term.

"On the other hand, we don't want to wait too long before offering a booster dose, so trying to find a sweet spot between going too soon and going too late we are suggesting that the booster dose is given no earlier than six months after the second dose."

Speaking alongside him, Van-Tam warned of a "bumpy" winter ahead, despite an "incredibly successful" vaccine rollout.

"But we also know that this pandemic is still active. We are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still,” he said.

"We know that this winter could quite possibly be bumpy at times and we know that other respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV are highly likely to make their returns."

On the joint rollout with this winter's flu vaccine, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said: "The data reviewed showed that giving the booster jabs with flu vaccines at the same time is safe and does not affect an individual's immune response to either vaccine.

"Therefore, Covid-19 booster doses may be given at the same time as flu vaccines. We have in place a comprehensive safety strategy for monitoring the safety of all Covid-19 vaccines, and this surveillance includes the booster jabs."

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