Explainer

Covid booster vaccine: Why do we need it, who will get it first and how do I book my jab?

A third jab will be offered to millions in the UK. Credit: PA

The Covid booster campaign has officially kicked off in England, with frontline health and care workers among the first to receive a third jab.

A maternity support worker became one of the the first people in the UK to receive a coronavirus booster jab on Thursday, paving the way for the campaign that will prioritise frontline NHS and social care staff, anyone aged 50 and over and those under 50 with health conditions that put them at risk of severe Covid, among others.

The Covid booster campaign follows the announcement made earlier this week that children aged 12 to 15 in England will be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab.

Scientists believe this booster jab for the most vulnerable alongside a dose for children between 12 and 15 will ensure the UK public is well-protected as we head into winter.

The Covid booster campaign will also begin shortly in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as health is devolved to the nations.

Here’s what you need to know about the third jab.

Why do we need a third jab?

Part of the reason is that social restrictions are expected to remain relaxed to close to pre-pandemic norms this winter, which means Covid could circulate through the population alongside other viruses, like the flu, particularly with more people staying indoors.

Early data in older individuals from Public Health England (PHE) also suggests that the protection provided by vaccines against severe Covid decreases gradually over time.

Therefore, a third jab will guard against any waning in its efficacy months after the second dose.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said: “Insufficient time has passed to know what levels of protection might be expected six to 12 months after the primary course.

“Taking a precautionary position, the JCVI considers that on balance it is preferable to maintain a high level of protection in vulnerable adults throughout winter.”



Ministers believe it will help ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed by new cases of the disease as it moves into the autumn and winter.

While the government has refused to rule out new lockdowns - saying they will remain a last resort in the government's arsenal of tools to tackle Covid – former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he hopes the booster scheme will mean no more restrictions are necessary.

Who will get it first?

The order will be the same as it was for the rollout for the first and second doses, outlined below.

GPs have been told to gear up to administer the vaccine to everyone in care homes by November 1 and ideally to give the flu vaccine at the same time.

How will it be rolled out?

The JCVI advises the booster vaccine dose is offered no earlier than six months after the second dose was given.

Those to be first vaccinated in the country will have received their second dose around six months ago.


This means the booster vaccine programme is recommended to begin in September 2021 “as soon as operationally practical”, the JCVI said.

GP Sarah Jarvis said the very elderly will "almost certainly be prioritised" as they are the ones who had their last jab longest ago and are the most vulnerable.

How do I book the booster jab and how will I be notified?

NHS England said people will be contacted as they become eligible, via a call or text from a GP-led site or via the National Booking Service, which will start issuing invitations from next week.

It is expected that the National Bookings System will open on Monday to some people as they become eligible for the jab.

People will be called forward to book six months after they had their second dose.

Which vaccine will it be?

The JCVI advises a "preference" for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, regardless of which vaccine brand someone received for their first two doses.

"This follows data from the COV-BOOST trial that indicates the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is well tolerated as a third dose and provides a strong booster response," the JCVI said.

A bottle of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Alternatively, a half dose of the Moderna vaccine may be offered.

"Where mRNA vaccines cannot be offered, for example due to allergies, the AstraZeneca vaccine may be considered for those who received it previously," the JCVI added.

As the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in ultra cold temperatures, it's unlikely pharmacies will be involved in the booster campaign, as they were during the first phase of the vaccination programme, due to the lack of facilities to store the vaccine.

Covid vaccine booster: How will it work and who will get it first?

What is the Covid booster campaign?

The NHS in England officially launched its coronavirus booster campaign on Thursday September 16, which will see millions of eligible people offered a third Covid vaccine.

The campaign was launched after data from Public Health England (PHE) suggested that the protection provided by vaccines against severe Covid decreases gradually over time.

A third jab, therefore, will guard against any waning in its efficacy months after the second dose.

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Who will get the Covid booster first?

Residents in care homes, people aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers are among the people who will receive the Covid booster first.

The programme will be rolled out to the same priority groups as the first phase of the vaccination programme.

Covid-19 booster vaccine order of priority:

1. Resident in care homes for older adults and their carers

2. People over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers

3. People aged 75 to 79

4. People aged 70-74 and those deemed to be “clinically extremely vulnerable”

5. People aged 65 to 69

6. People aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and death - deemed as "clinically vulnerable"

7. People aged 60 to 64

8. People aged 55 to 59

9. People aged 50 to 54

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How long do I need to wait after my last vaccine dose?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises the booster vaccine dose is offered at least six months after the second dose was given.

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How do I book the booster jab and how will I be notified?

NHS England has said people will be contacted as they become eligible, via a call or text from a GP-led site or via the National Booking Service, which will start issuing invitations from Monday 20 September.

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Which vaccine will it be?

People will either receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or a half dose of the Moderna vaccine, regardless of which vaccine they have already had for their first two doses.

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Will the rollout apply across the UK?

The third jab will be offered to people in all nations in the UK.

Wales began its own Covid vaccine booster campaign on Thursday 16 September and Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow shortly after.

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What about the flu vaccine - will this be offered at the same time as the booster?

GPs have been told they can give the winter flu jab at the same time if stocks allow, though they should not hold up administering either vaccination.

For the second year running, all over 50s will be offered the flu vaccine, along with those living with someone who is immunosuppressed and someone who is the main carer of anyone who's vulnerable.

GP Sarah Jarvis told ITV News: "If you're offered them both together, by all means, have it, one in each arm, there is now good evidence, the JCVI have confirmed it's perfectly safe.

"But if you're offered them separately, please do take it up, don't delay having one, in order to have the other."

She added: "You will be invited, either by your practice, for a flu vaccine, or by your region, your primary care network, or the national programme, for a combination of a Covid booster and a flu vaccine, but please get them when you're invited."

Will we need a booster jab every year?

The JCVI's Professor Wei Shen Lim said the recommendations are for the current stage of the pandemic and should not be interpreted as anything more permanent or long-term.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the recommendations are "bespoke" and for this winter.

Will the rollout apply across the UK?

The third jab will be offered to people in all countries in the UK. Children aged 12-15 will also be offered one dose of the Covid Pfizer vaccine.


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