Covid booster jabs for over 50s and vulnerable people to be rolled out from next week
Booster Covid vaccines will be offered to millions of people from next week alongside annual flu jabs.
Those eligible include anyone aged 50 and over, people living and working in elderly care homes, and frontline health and social care workers.
All those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and anyone aged 16 to 65 in an at-risk group for Covid (who were included in priority groups one to nine during the initial vaccine rollout) will also be eligible for a jab.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be used as the booster dose for around 30 million people, with experts saying it is safe to be given alongside the usual winter flu jab.
People could be able to get their Covid and flu vaccines on the same day, preferably with one shot in each arm.
Health secretary Sajid Javid announced the plans in the House of Commons this afternoon, following a recommendation from the the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
He explained that that the NHS would contact all those who are eligible and is preparing to offer the jabs from next week.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, said the programme will commence in a fast but measured manner.
He added: 'It will be full speed ahead on this but in a purposeful way rather than a rushed way.’
'It is completely different to the situation back in December and January in the beginning of the vaccine era when we had very, very high levels of the disease and a completely unprotected population.
'It's different this time but still needs purposeful and steady steps towards the goal.'
Three vaccines have been approved as safe and effective as boosters – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – but experts have decided to opt for Pfizer as a preference after studies showed it is well tolerated and works well as a booster.
It can be given to people regardless of which vaccine people had previously.
The Moderna jab may be used as an alternative, but as a half-dose booster shot after studies showed it was effective at this dose, with few side-effects.
When there is more data, the JCVI plans to look at whether boosters should also be offered to healthy people under the age of 50, though there is less concern about immunity waning in this age group.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of Covid-19 immunisation for the JCVI, said: ‘The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been hugely successful in protecting people against hospitalisation and death, and the main aim of the booster programme is to prolong that protection and reduce serious disease as we head towards the colder months.
‘The JCVI is advising that a booster dose be offered to the more vulnerable, to maximise individual protection ahead of an unpredictable winter.
‘Most of these people will also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and we strongly advise them to take up this offer as well.’