Booster vaccines to be rolled out to the over-50s from next week

Booster vaccines to immunise against Covid-19 will be rolled out to the over-50s from next week, it has been confirmed. Speculation about a third jab has been rife for a time, but health secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons the elderly and vulnerable will be contacted by the NHS before long.

The third dose will ideally be administered at the same time as the flu jab, with a shot in each arm. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is set to be used in a blanket approach to the booster jab, irrespective of which injection was given in the first round of vaccinations.

It has been cleared by experts as safe to be used alongside the flu jab and is expected to be given to some 30 million people. The AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines were both also declared effective as boosters, but Pfizer has been selected as it’s well tolerated and can be given to those who’ve already had other jabs.

Moderna may be introduced as an alternative and will likely be given as a half dose after studies found a smaller quantity was still effective. It’s also shown to have few side effects, making it a viable option.

Third doses shouldn’t be given to anyone until at least six months has passed since they received their second coronavirus jab. This makes now a good timeframe to start administering booster shots to the elderly who were vaccinated in the first rollout.

The decision to go ahead with booster shots was based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). It highlighted how effective the UK’s vaccination programme has been so far at minimising hospitalisation and deaths, stating that boosters should prolong such protection.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of Covid-19 immunisation for the body, said: “The JCVI is advising that a booster dose be offered to the more vulnerable, to maximise individual protection ahead of an unpredictable winter. Most of these people will also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and we strongly advise them to take up this offer as well.”

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty has warned that the UK is heading into the autumn with higher cases than it was last year. This is noteworthy because viruses are “hugely advantaged” in the cooler, winter months, he cautioned.

The announcement about booster jabs came as part of the unveiling of England’s wider Covid winter plan. Representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have confirmed the devolved nations will also be commencing with third doses in the near future.

It’s still unclear how long the protection offered by the first two vaccines takes to drop off, but the JCVI is taking a precautionary approach. Extra doses for the most vulnerable is seen as the best way to keep them safe and minimise the risk of the NHS being overrun.