Vulnerable groups in the U.K. may be given Covid-19 booster vaccines starting from September to maintain their immunity during the winter and help ward off new variants.
The country’s independent vaccination committee recommended that the government plan to offer boosters in a two-stage program alongside the annual flu vaccination drive. The rollout will depend on further data and the guidance could change, according to the Department of Health & Social Care.
“We want to be on the front foot for Covid-19 booster vaccination,” Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said in a statement. The goal is to “keep the probability of loss of vaccine protection due to waning immunity or variants as low as possible, especially over the coming autumn and winter.”
The shots would first be made available to extremely vulnerable and immunosuppressed adults, those ages 70 or older, residents of elderly care homes and front-line health workers, the health department said. Those eligible in the second stage would include people over 50 and household contacts of the immunosuppressed.
The benefits of vaccinating other groups, including young adults who may not have had a second dose yet, will be evaluated at a later date.
Final recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization will be published before September, the statement said. It will consider data from a government-funded trial that is evaluating the effectiveness of different Covid-19 vaccines as booster shots, as well as any new information on the immunity levels from the current inoculation program.
The government asked the committee to consider the options to help the National Health Service with its winter planning. The colder months could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases, as they typically do with the flu, intensifying the pressure on the NHS.
“We need to learn to live with this virus,” Sajid Javid, U.K. health secretary, said in the statement. “Our first Covid-19 vaccination program is restoring freedom in this country, and our booster program will protect this freedom.”