The campaign will then widen to cover all people aged over 50, 16- to 59-year-olds in flu or COVID-19 at-risk groups and household contacts of some at-risk patients.
The update comes after interim advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) backed rollout of a COVID-19 booster campaign in two stages, to run ‘alongside the annual flu vaccination programme’.
Research remains ongoing to clarify whether flu and COVID-19 vaccinations can be delivered at the same time – leaving the health service potentially facing a mammoth task to vaccinate an expanded flu cohort in addition to re-vaccinating millions of people against coronavirus in separate visits.
COVID-19 booster jab
The vaccination programme recommended in interim advice from the JCVI could start from 1 September in the following stages:
The following people should be offered a third-dose COVID-19 booster vaccine and the annual influenza vaccine as soon as possible from September 2021:
- adults aged 16 years and over who are immunosuppressed,
- those living in residential care homes for older adults,
- all adults aged 70 years or over,
- adults aged 16 years and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable,
- frontline health and social care workers.
The following people should be offered a third COVID-19 booster vaccine as soon as practicable after Stage 1, with equal emphasis on deployment of the influenza vaccine where eligible:
- all adults aged 50 years and over,
- all adults aged 16 – 49 years who are in an influenza or COVID-19 at-risk group as outlined in the Green Book,
- adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.
Final JCVI advice will be published ‘before September’ and will include updates from clinical trials that could lead to a revision of the interim advice, and that could determine whether flu and COVID-19 jabs can be administered at the same time.
The final advice will also ‘take into account the latest epidemiological situation, additional scientific data from trials such as Cov-Boost, real-time surveillance of the effectiveness of the vaccines over time and emerging variants’.
Current advice set out in NHS England’s standard operating procedure for primary care says that ‘for all patient groups, COVID-19 vaccines should not routinely be given if any other vaccination has been received within the last seven days’. It adds, however, that ‘adjacent or co-administration can occur where this would cause delay or reduce access to either influenza or COVID-19 vaccine’.
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘The phenomenal vaccine rollout has already saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented millions of infections, helping to wrestle back control of the pandemic and ease lockdown restrictions so we can return to normal as soon as possible.
‘We welcome this interim advice, which will help us ensure we are ready in our preparations for autumn. We look forward to receiving the committee’s final advice in due course.
‘We need to learn to live with this virus. Our first COVID-19 vaccination programme is restoring freedom in this country, and our booster programme will protect this freedom. We are working with the NHS to make sure we can rapidly deliver this programme to maintain protection for people in the winter months.’
Deputy CMO for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: ‘Where the UK has reached so far on vaccination is truly fantastic. But we need to keep going and finish giving second doses to those remaining adults who have not had them – this is the best thing we can do prevent the disease from making a comeback which disrupts society later in the year.
‘Being able to manage COVID-19 with fewer or no restrictions is now heavily dependent on the continued success of the vaccination programme. We want to be on the front foot for COVID-19 booster vaccination to keep the probability of loss of vaccine protection due to waning immunity or variants as low as possible. Especially over the coming autumn and winter.
‘Fewer or no restrictions will mean that other respiratory viruses, particularly flu, will make a comeback and quite possibly be an additional problem this winter, so we will need to ensure protection against flu as well as maintaining protection against COVID-19.’
The update on booster vaccination came as 26,068 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on 30 June – the highest daily figure since late January.
However, the government said that the vaccination programme was ‘weakening the link between cases and hospitalisations’ and that the UK remained on track to offer a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by 19 July, two weeks earlier than planned.