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Another Covid-19 booster vaccination on the way for over-75s and the most vulnerable this spring

A further Covid-19 booster vaccination will be offered to people aged 75 and over, the immunosuppressed and those living in care homes this spring.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said the top-up jab will help those at the highest risk of serious illness from the virus to maintain a high level of protection.

The jab will be offered from around six months after their last dose and further details are due to be set out soon.

Health secretary Sajid Javid on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus last week. Picture by Lauren Hurley / Department of Health and Social Care
Health secretary Sajid Javid on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus last week. Picture by Lauren Hurley / Department of Health and Social Care

Then an autumn jab campaign is expected to cover a wider group of people than in spring and could include any new Covid vaccines that are available.

It has not yet been decided whether all those currently eligible for an annual flu vaccination will be included.

It follows interim guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which said a further dose for older people and those at risk is likely to be needed this autumn.

The top-up jabs are designed to combat the fact that the effectiveness of Covid vaccines wanes over time and surges in infection are expected in winter.

Mr Javid said: “Thanks to our Covid-19 vaccination rollout, we are already the freest country in Europe.

“It has saved countless lives, reduced pressure on the NHS and is allowing us to learn to live with the virus.

“Today I have accepted the advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to offer, from spring, an additional Covid-19 booster jab to people aged 75 years and over, residents in care homes for older adults, and people aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed.

“All four parts of the UK intend to follow the JCVI’s advice.

“We know immunity to Covid-19 begins to wane over time.

Uptake of booster/third doses of Covid-19 vaccine in England. Graph: PA
Uptake of booster/third doses of Covid-19 vaccine in England. Graph: PA

“That’s why we’re offering a spring booster to those people at higher risk of serious Covid-19 to make sure they maintain a high level of protection. It’s important that everyone gets their top-up jabs as soon as they’re eligible.

“The JCVI will keep under review whether the booster programme should be extended to further at-risk groups.”

Most of the UK’s oldest adults received their last vaccine in September or October last year.

The vaccines used in the spring programme will be the 50mcg Moderna vaccine or 30mcg Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for adults aged 18 and over.

For anyone eligible aged 12 to 18, the 30mcg Pfizer/BioNTech dose is being offered.

The JCVI said the new recommendation was “precautionary” and people did not face immediate danger to their health, but those being offered a booster had weaker immune systems and may see vaccine effectiveness wane more quickly.

Data suggests that older people who have had two doses of a Covid vaccine have about 45 per cent protection against hospital admission with Omicron, rising to 90 per cent straight after their first booster.

A nurse prepares a Covid vaccination. Picture: PA
A nurse prepares a Covid vaccination. Picture: PA

Ten weeks later, that protection has dropped to about 88 per cent but the JCVI believes that even a small drop off in protection among vulnerable and older people can have a large impact, including on hospital admissions and the NHS.

Around 7.2 million people in the UK aged over 75 will be eligible for the top-up dose, as will around half a million people who are immunosuppressed.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of Covid-19 vaccination on the JCVI, said: “Last year’s booster vaccination programme has so far provided excellent protection against severe Covid-19.

“To maintain high levels of protection for the most vulnerable individuals in the population, an extra spring dose of vaccine is advised ahead of an expected autumn booster programme later this year.

“The JCVI will continue its rolling review of the vaccination programme and the epidemiological situation, particularly in relation to the timing and value of doses for less vulnerable older adults and those in clinical risk groups ahead of autumn 2022.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to unveil his ‘living with Covid’ plan to the House of Commons at 4.30pm.

He will then hold a press conference alongside the chief medical officer for England, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, at around 6.30-7pm.

It comes amid reports of a tug-of-war between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the secretary over the £2bn a month free Covid testing programme.

Mr Johnson hinted on Sunday that provision for free tests could not continue at their current rate.

But devolved leaders have condemned any move to scale back the regime.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said it would be “premature and reckless” to wind back the programme, adding in a tweet: “Testing has played a pivotal role in breaking chains of transmission and as a surveillance tool helping us detect and respond to emerging variants. It’s essential that this continues.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that if reports that no new money had been given to carry on testing were correct, it would be “inexcusable negligence given ongoing risks”.

She said: “If Sunak wins, the concern is more than just an end to free access to testing in short term (a decision I don’t agree with) – it’ll also be hard for UK to retain adequate testing capacity for longer term surveillance & response to new variants. Let’s hope common sense prevails.”

Professor Robert West, a health psychologist from University College London and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights group on Behaviours (Spi-B) which feeds into Sage, told Times Radio he thinks the Government has moved to “abdicate its own responsibility for looking after its population”.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he said one in 20 people has Covid-19 and 150 people are dying each day.

“It looks as though what the Government has said is that it accepts that the country is going to have to live with somewhere between 20,000 and 80,000 Covid deaths a year and isn’t really going to do anything about it,” he said. “Now that seems to me to be irresponsible.

“I would say that it’s like any illness, frankly, any transmissible illness that you would say stay at home.”

But he admitted “it’ll be down to themselves [workers] or down to their employer”.

He said workers should contact Acas if they “really think that there is a detriment to them”.

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