Covid booster vaccines: Over 50s, care home residents and health workers to get third jab

George Harold, one of 32 million people offered a third jab, hopes another vaccination will finally end his ordeal, ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports

Covid booster vaccines will be offered to people in the UK aged 50 and over, those in care homes and frontline health and social care workers, the government has announced.

It means more than 30 million people in the UK will be offered a third dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna coronavirus vaccines.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told ITV News the programme will be the "final piece of the jigsaw" in the UK's bid to end the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the government had received guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to move ahead "with a really ambitious Covid booster programme".

Three vaccines have been approved as safe and effective as boosters - AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna - but experts have said Pfizer is the preference after studies showed it is well tolerated and works well as a booster.

Is this booster jab really necessary and will we get to the point where everyone will be offered them? Health Editor Emily Morgan explains

Who will be offered a booster jab?

  • Those living in residential care homes for older adults

  • All adults aged 50 years or over

  • Frontline health and social care workers

  • All those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe Covid-19

  • Adult household contacts of those with weakened immune systems

If necessary, Moderna may be used as an alternative, but as a half-dose booster shot after studies showed it was effective with few side-effects.

People should receive their third booster dose at least six months after they received their second dose of a Covid vaccine, the JCVI said in a press conference led by England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.

When there is more data, experts plan to look at whether boosters should also be offered to healthy people under the age of 50.

Third doses can be safely administered at the same time as flu jabs, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, told the press conference.

Mr Zahawi said further details of the programme will be set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is to hold a press conference this afternoon in which he will reveal his plan to prevent further lockdowns and to reduce the impact of Covid throughout winter.

Ministers have refused to rule out new lockdowns, saying they will remain a last resort in the government's arsenal of tools to tackle Covid - but Mr Zahawi said he hopes the booster scheme will mean no more restrictions are necessary.

"This, in many ways, I hope should be the final piece of the jigsaw to help us transition this virus pandemic status to endemic status," he said.

Booster jab campaign will be 'final piece of the jigsaw':

Asked if it meant there would be no more lockdowns, the vaccines minister responded: "It's important to remain vigilant, the virus hasn't gone away.

"The winter months will give it an inbuilt advantage, both in terms of Covid and flu, adding to the pressure to the NHS. But of course, the booster campaign, protecting the most vulnerable, at scale will put a downward pressure on the virus and infection rates.

"I think we are in a strong position, I am cautiously optimistic."

Professor Van-Tam warned of a "bumpy" winter ahead as he set out the findings of the review of Covid-19 booster jabs.

At a Downing Street press conference, he said vaccines had been "incredibly successful" and had so far prevented an estimated 24 million Covid-19 cases and 112,000 deaths.

"But we also know that this pandemic is still active. We are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still.

"We know that this winter could quite possibly be bumpy at times and we know that other respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] are highly likely to make their returns."

He added that vaccines so far had "probably averted" roughly 24 million Covid cases and around 112,000 deaths.

Some third doses have already been offered to the most vulnerable in society to Covid, those with severely weakened immune systems - but a top vaccines scientist has warned they are not necessary for everyone.

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the leading figures in the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca jab, said immunity is “lasting well” for most people and suggested extra doses should be directed to countries with a low rate of vaccination.

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Dame Sarah told The Daily Telegraph that the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should be in line for a third jab but “I don’t think we need to boost everybody”.

“As the virus spreads between people, it mutates and adapts and evolves, like the Delta variant,” she said.

“With these outbreaks, we want to stop that as quickly as possible.

“We will look at each situation; the immunocompromised and elderly will receive boosters.

“But I don’t think we need to boost everybody. Immunity is lasting well in the majority of people.”