By Elaine McCallig, ITV News Digital Content Producer
Covid booster vaccines could be sold privately for the first time in the UK as soon as next spring, according to reports.
The jab could be sold by pharmacists and private clinics, as they do with the flu vaccine.
It comes as the number of people eligible for the NHS autumn booster jab has been scaled back.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed they have regularly spoken to manufacturers they are in contract with over time and made it clear that they would not prevent them initiating a private market for Covid-19 vaccines.
The agency will continue working with manufacturers to ensure NHS programmes have an adequate stock of vaccines.
Moderna and Pfizer said supplying the NHS remains their top priority, The Times reports, but Moderna is “exploring the possibility and viability” of private sales.
There is no blanket restriction on private sales of licensed vaccines.
ITV News has contacted Moderna and Pfizer for comment.
The vaccine has so far only been available for free through the NHS, with people called forward when they are eligible.
It comes as a new version of the Omicron variant - dubbed Eris - is rising in the UK.
Officially known as EG.5.1, the variant is now the second most prevalent in the UK, making up 11.8% of UK cases as of 27 July.
The dominant variant in the UK is Arcturus, which makes up some 39.4% of cases.
High-street vaccines will be on sale as soon as next spring, and is unlikely to be sold in time for an autumn booster campaign.
It is thought the vaccines could be packaged in ready-filled syringes rather than the vials containing several doses currently used by the NHS.
Reports suggest the vaccine could be more expensive than the flu jab, which typically costs between £15 to £20.
Private jabs can be bought in the US from as soon as early autumn, but no exact date has been set.
News of the private sale of Covid jabs comes as the number people eligible for the NHS autumn booster jab falls.
The vaccine will only be offered to those aged 65 and over along with health and care workers and people living with certain health conditions, following advice on the UK booster programmes from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Last year, the autumn booster jab was offered to those age 50 and over, but this year the eligibility criteria has been tightened so only those age 65 and over will be offered the jab.
Health officials said that the larger group was offered the booster jab last year as part of the “emergency response” to the pandemic.
But the “success of these programmes has enabled us to live with Covid and, this year, we are able to scale back the number of people who require an autumn booster”, officials said.
Meanwhile the JCVI said adults who are yet to receive a Covid vaccine will be eligible to get a single jab during the booster campaign.
It is understood the Covid autumn booster programme will begin in October.
Health officials previously announced they would be scaling back eligibility for the flu jab this year.
During the height of the pandemic, over-50s were offered the jab in a bid to reduce co-circulation of flu and Covid and relieve pressure on the NHS.
But now officials have reverted to the original offer to those aged 65 and over along with those who have certain health conditions.
Philippa Harvey, Director of the Covid Vaccine Unit at UKHSA, said: “The Covid-19 vaccination programme continues to target those at higher risk of serious illness in line with JCVI advice, as those groups are most likely to benefit from booster vaccination at this time.
“The Covid-19 vaccine is not currently available to buy privately in the UK but there is no blanket restriction on private sales of licensed vaccines. UKHSA will continue to work with manufacturers to ensure there is sufficient vaccine supply available to the NHS programme.”
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