Millions of people in the UK will be offered more Covid booster shots in the autumn, under draft guidelines released by the Government’s Immunizations Inspectorate.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said another round of vaccinations would help protect the most vulnerable adults and frontline social and health workers from severe Covid in the winter.
Despite the “significant uncertainty” about the likelihood, timing and severity of a future Covid wave in the country, the committee said the threat from the virus is greatest during the winter months.
The preliminary advice, released on Thursday, is intended to help the NHS, care homes and other healthcare providers plan for rollout in the coming months. It calls for another round of boosters to be offered to more than 25 million people in the UK. Eligible are staff and residents of nursing homes for the elderly, frontline health and social care workers, anyone aged 65 and over and adults aged 16 to 64 who are in a clinical risk group.
“Last year’s fall booster program provided excellent protection against severe Covid-19, including against the Omicron variant,” said Prof Wei Shen Lim, Chair of Covid-19 Vaccine at JCVI.
“We have provided preliminary advice for an Autumn Booster Scheme for 2022 to allow the NHS and care homes to start the necessary operational planning to enable a high level of protection for more vulnerable people and frontline health workers next winter .”
Prof Jonathan Ball, a molecular virologist at the University of Nottingham, welcomed the move. “We know that immunity to Covid-19 is complete over time after vaccination or even infection contracts. It therefore makes sense to give those individuals most at risk of developing severe Covid-19 a boost just before virus circulation is expected to pick up again in the autumn and winter months. He said. “Exact timing will be important as you don’t want to wait until virus circulation has already increased, although hopefully those most at risk have already received their spring booster to benefit them.”
Since April, Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths in the UK have been steadily declining, but the same trend was seen for the first two years of the pandemic, before new variants fueled further waves of infection. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 99% of the UK population has antibodies to Covid, but it is unclear what level of antibodies prevents infection. Immunity also declines over time, and it’s unclear how protected people will be if new variants emerge.
During the pandemic, older people and those with underlying health conditions have been hardest hit by the virus, prompting the JCVI to prioritize those most at risk for vaccination. The committee urged those who are eligible for a spring booster to come forward, including those aged 75 and older, residents of a nursing home for older adults and those 12 and older who are immunocompromised.
The fall booster round, which will target more than a third of the population, is expected to fall back on the existing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines used in the spring booster campaign, but JCVI will consider other options before closing issue final guidelines in due course. “As we continue to review the scientific data, further updates to this recommendation will follow,” said Prof. Lim.