The vaccine is one of the best tool’s in any nation’s arsenal against coronavirus. Millions are catching the virus each day, but countries with the highest vaccination rates are seeing fewer people develop the worst symptoms and fewer fatalities. Britain began vaccinating its population at the end of 2020 and is now looking to provide booster shots to its most vulnerable in an effort to raise their antibody levels and protect them during the winter.
The UK has agreed to buy 35 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine to prepare for booster shots this autumn.
However, Britain is facing criticism from the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) who said booster vaccines should be delayed in a bid to raise global inoculation rates.
The UK is one of the leading countries in terms of vaccination protocol – having fully vaccinated 76.9 percent of its adult population as of August 22.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has defended Britain’s decision to forge ahead with its booster programme.
He said: “While we continue to build this wall of defence from COVID-19, it’s also vital we do everything we can to protect the country for the future too – whether that’s from the virus as we know it or new variants.”
Mr Javid added: “I am pleased we’ve reached this agreement with Pfizer for more doses as part of our robust preparations to future-proof our vaccine programme, ensuring we have plans in place to keep the nation safe for years to come.”
The NHS is hoping to begin the vaccination booster programme on September 6 – however, this date could yet be put back if JCVI final advice is delayed.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has come under increasing pressure to issue firm guidance about the booster plan.
However, the group wants to see more evidence from trials looking into the effectiveness of booster programmes after scientists were pleasantly surprised by how slowly immunity appears to be waning.
Sources close to the committee believe the JCVI will authorise a booster campaign in stages – starting with the UK’s most vulnerable populations.
Those vulnerable people will be vaccinated in two stages – the first being the immunocompromised; those living in care homes; adults 70 and over; and people considered clinical extremely vulnerable, as well as front-line health and social care workers.
The second stage would cover adults aged 50 and over; the household contacts of immunocompromised people; and adults aged 16 to 49 years old who are in a coronavirus at-risk group.
The 35 million extra Pfizer doses secured by the UK this week will not be delivered until the second half of 2021 which means they will unlikely be used for the most vulnerable boosters.
The current plan is to vaccinate this population between September and December.
However, a formal JCVI recommendation to ministers is due this week or next.
The recommendation may well be limited to those who are immunocompromised, such as by an organ transplant or cancer treatment.
The group is also looking at whether it is possible to identify others for whom the first two jabs did not work so well.
According to population estimates from 2011 census, each age group is likely to be invited to have the booster vaccine at the following times:
- Aged 80 and over: Week starting September 6
- Health and social care workers: Week starting September 6
- Aged 70 and over: Week starting September 20
- Aged 60 and over: Week starting October 11
- Aged 16 and over with underlying health conditions: Week starting October 18
- Aged 50 and over: Week starting November 8.
Scientists claim the over-80s and “immuno-suppressed” patients, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, are certain to benefit from a booster jab as they are likely to have shown the weakest immune response to their first two doses.
These were also the first groups to be vaccinated in the first round of doses, meaning that their immunity is likely to have waned more than those in younger and less vulnerable groups.
Francois Balloux, a director at University College London’s genetics institute, told The Times: “Most people have been starting to feel that a blanket booster programme at this stage is not needed in the UK.
“The vaccine is really doing its job well.”
However, he said routine antibody tests could identify those in need of a booster.
The Government this week revealed up to 8,000 home antibody tests per day would be made available soon.