Covid: People with severely weakened immune systems to be offered third vaccine dose

Martin Bristow has a weakened immune system due to being treated for blood cancer. He will now be offered a third booster jab to see if it gives him more protection, ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke reports

People aged 12 and over in the UK who have a severely weakened immune system will be offered a third coronavirus vaccine, the health secretary has announced.

Sajid Javid said advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) was that protection against Covid-19 provided by vaccines is significantly reduced in those who are immunosuppressed, and so they should be the first to receive a top up dose.

“We know people with specific conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, may have received less protection against the virus from two vaccine doses," he said.

"I am determined to ensure we are doing all we can to protect people in this group and a third dose will help deliver that.

“The NHS will contact people as soon as possible to discuss their needs and arrange an appointment for a third dose where clinically appropriate."

The announcement, however, does not signal the start of the booster jab programme, Mr Javid said, adding that it's still scheduled to begin in September.

While some over 12s are yet to receive their first Covid jab, others are set for their third. Credit: PA

The JCVI is "still deliberating the potential benefits of booster vaccines for the rest of the population and is awaiting further evidence to inform this decision", the group said.

Who will be offered a top up jab?

People who have leukaemia, advanced HIV or recent organ transplants are considered to be immunosuppressed and are likely to be among the first set of people offered their third jab.

The JCVI said third jabs should be administered "at least 8 weeks after the second dose but with flexibility to adjust the timing so that, where possible, immunosuppression is at a minimum when the vaccine dose is given".

The JCVI said "immunosuppression varies widely in severity and duration", but around 40% of people with weakened immune system had low levels of Covid antibodies, even after two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

Sajid Javid announces the third jab top up scheme:

"For example, it is preferable to give a vaccine dose before someone undergoes chemotherapy, rather than during their treatment."

Data has shown that "almost everyone who was immunosuppressed mounted an immune response after two doses", albeit lower than the rest of the population.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van Tam said: “We know there are people with severe immunosuppression for whom the first two doses of vaccine have not provided the same level protection as for the general population.

"The degree of protection will vary by individual, according to degree of immunosuppression and the underlying reasons for that."

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He added: “We should be doing all we reasonably can to ensure that this group is not disadvantaged and a third primary dose is one step in this direction.

"We are also working hard to ensure there are other medical interventions that can be used in these groups, including specific treatments like antivirals and monoclonal antibodies.”

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Will all immunosuppressed people be offered a top up jab?

Over 12s will be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, while those aged 18 and over can receive either that or the Moderna jab, the JCVI said.

The group added that people with less serious immunosuppression "are not included in this advice but are likely to become eligible for another dose as part of a potential booster programme", if and when that is rolled out.

It was pointed out that the difference between a booster jab and the programme being announced today is that a "third primary dose is an extra ‘top-up’ dose for those who may not have generated a full immune response to the first two doses".

"In contrast, a booster dose is a later dose to extend the duration of protection from the primary course of vaccinations."