Covid: Nationwide booster vaccines programme may not be needed, says AstraZeneca boss

Credit: AP

A national booster Covid vaccine programme may not be necessary for everyone in Britain and rolling out third doses too quickly would be an “unnecessary burden” on the NHS, the head of AstraZeneca has said.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot has called for patience from the government, stressing the UK was “a few weeks away” from having a definitive answer on the effectiveness of two doses in providing “continued, protective immunity”.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph (alongside the company’s executive vice-president of biopharmaceuticals R&D Sir Mene Pangalos) Mr Soriot said: "Moving too quickly to boost across the entire adult population will deprive us of these insights, leaving this important decision to rest on limited data.

"A third dose for all may be needed, but it may not.

Their comments come after Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News on Wednesday he was "confident we can start the booster programme this month."

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"Mobilising the NHS for a boosting programme that is not needed would potentially add unnecessary burden on the NHS over the long winter months," the pair warned in the article.

"Because NHS staff and resources are scarce, another national mobilisation would potentially leave us with fewer resources for cancer screenings and the other care provided by doctors and nurses each day."

More than half a million people with severely weakened immune systems and who are most at risk from Covid-19 will be offered another vaccine dose beginning this month.

The move follows a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Many elderly people are now eligible for their booster jab and they're being encouraged to take up invitations for their third dose. Credit: PA

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi previously told MPs a vaccine booster programme is "ready to go" as soon as the scientific advice for the scheme is signed off.

That announcement is separate, however, from any decision on a nationwide booster programme. News on that is expected soon.

Mr Zahawi added that he hopes the virus can be dealt with "year in, year out" without having to take the "severe measures" seen last December.

He told BBC Breakfast: "Vaccines have given us the ability to reduce infections, to save 100,000 lives."

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

"It is through the booster programme that I hope...we can transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status and deal with it year in, year out," he added.

"It is going to be with us for many years – but not have to close down our economy or take the severe measures we had to sadly take in December of last year."

The UK’s chief medical officers (CMO) are currently reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating 12 to 15-year-old.

The JCVI declined to recommend a widespread rollout to the age group on health grounds alone - prompting the health secretary to approach the CMOs for further analysis.