The NHS is developing plans for a COVID-19 vaccine booster programme that would roll out a third shot of the vaccine to millions of vulnerable Brits from September. Public health officials are keen to provide the shots alongside winter flu shots.

BBC News reports that the move follows interim advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation for the health service to prepare a two-stage autumn booster programme pending a final decision in the summer on whether to proceed.

Health bosses believe that a third round of COVID-19 vaccines may be needed to maintain levels of protection high enough over the autumn and winter months when it is predicted cases of the coronavirus may rebound at the same time as the UK enters its traditional flu season.

Flu jabs will be extended again this year to all over-50s.

Extra shots of the COVID vaccine are seen as particularly important for vulnerable people whose immunity may have waned since they had their shots, and to beef up protection against any variants of the virus that partially evade the vaccines.

Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI’s COVID-19 group, said: “The primary objective of any potential Covid-19 booster vaccine programme should be to reduce serious disease, including death.”

He added that the JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be needed, a third COVID-19 jab should go to the most vulnerable first, and start in September to maximise individual protection and help protect the NHS.

The JCVI would review data on the epidemic, levels of vaccine protection, new variants, and results of trials on the efficacy of different booster shots, such as Cov-Boost, in the weeks ahead, he said.

If a Covid booster programme goes ahead, then the JCVI recommends that stage one should offer a third dose to:

  • Adults aged 16 years and over who are immunosuppressed.
  • Those living in residential care homes for older adults.
  • All adults aged 70 years or over.
  • Adults aged 16 years and over are considered clinically extremely vulnerable.
  • Frontline health and social care workers.

Stage 2 would offer a third dose to:

  • All adults aged 50 years and over.
  • All adults aged 16 to 49 years who are in an at-risk group for flu or Covid.
  • Adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.

It is thought that any booster jabs would be a single shot, which would make the roll-out faster than the current programme which requires two shots. As most younger adults will not receive their second COVID vaccine jab until late summer, it is expected that they would not need a booster shot this winter.

The JCVI, which advises ministers on the UK’s immunisation strategy, has not recommended a particular vaccine for the booster programme, but the government vaccines taskforce has been asked to ensure the UK has sufficient doses of different vaccines before the autumn to deliver whatever strategy the committee recommends.

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