The COVID booster jabs rollout has been extended to all adults aged 40 and over from today, it has been announced.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised the government that all adults over the age of 40 should be offered a third jab six months after their second dose.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that “all four parts of the UK intend to follow the JCVI’s advice”.
It comes after a recommendation by the JCVI and results from the first real-world study by the UK Health Security Agency which shows that two weeks after receiving a booster dose, protection against symptomatic infection for adults aged 50 and over was 93.1% in those who had an AstraZeneca dose, and 94% for Pfizer.
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The JCVI, an independent expert committee that advises ministers on immunisation, has also announced that it will be advising that all 16 and 17 year olds have a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The government will also be accepting this recommendation, Mr Javid said.
Previously, only those in this age group considered to be in an “at-risk” group were eligible.
Second doses for 16 and 17 year olds should be given at least 12 weeks after initial jabs, the JCVI suggests.
The decision to advise the second dose is based on a review of the latest evidence of the benefits of the vaccine programme, compared to the risks of any side effects, they add.
The JCVI says people should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna jab as a booster, irrespective of which vaccine they had initially.
So far, some 12.6 million people have had a third COVID-19 jab and deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said told a Downing Street news briefing that the UK is moving at “considerable pace” with its booster programme.
The latest vaccine announcement comes as a new study highlighted how boosters can significantly increase people’s protection against getting a symptomatic case of coronavirus – with protection against more severe disease and death is expected to be even higher.
Discussing data on booster jabs in Israel, Prof Van-Tam told the televised news briefing: “So, I believe therefore that if the booster programme is successful and with very high uptake we can massively reduce the worry about hospitalisation and death due to COVID at Christmas and for the rest of this winter for literally millions of people.
“It really is as simple and as decisive as that.”
Prof Van-Tam added that everyone has a role to play in helping the UK have “as safe and disruption-free a winter as possible”.
“People keep asking me about Christmas. I think for Christmas and the winter period, we can expect respiratory viruses to be around and we are particularly concerned that flu will come back and add to our problems, and it could be quite a bumpy few months ahead.
“But everyone has a key role to play in achieving as safe and disruption-free a winter as possible.
“Wear face coverings in crowded places if it is practical to do so, increase indoor ventilation whenever you can, make sure you are vaccinated and, like any medicine, make sure you finish the course.
“And when you are called for your booster please come forwards at pace so that we as a whole UK can get on and finish this job.”
The JCVI says that they will continue to closely review all available data to develop further advice in due course.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of COVID-19 immunisation at the JCVI, said “these vaccinations will also help extend our protection into 2022”.
He added: “If you are eligible, please make sure to have these vaccines and keep yourselves protected as we head into winter.”
Prof Lim also told the Downing Street news briefing that people aged under 40 may be advised to get a booster jab in the future.
“It may well be that adults who are under 40 years might require a booster dose or a third dose at some point. We don’t know whether that is definitely the case yet.
“We are looking very closely at the data all the time and should there be sufficient signal to warrant a third dose, so a booster dose for this age group, then certainly we will announce that and advise that accordingly.”
This was echoed by Mr Javid, who said in a statement: “”The JCVI will keep under review whether the booster programme should be extended to all people under the age of 40 and I look forward to receiving their advice in due course.
“This is a national mission – the vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones and I urge everybody to get your jabs as soon as you can.”
Speaking on a visit to a medical centre in east London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said those in intensive care are “all the unvaccinated”.
The PM told reporters: “I think it’s very good news that the JCVI has today authorised the booster programme to be rolled out to everybody 40-plus, and when you look at what’s happening in the pandemic at the moment, just hearing in Newham sadly there are people in ICU, in intensive care, who are suffering badly from COVID, but they’re all the unvaccinated.
“And what’s happening is if you can get your booster then your immunity goes right back up to 95%.”