The NHS has officially launched its Covid-19 booster campaign, which will see millions of eligible people offered a third dose for maximum protection heading into winter.
The campaign is now underway in England and Wales as hospital hubs begin inoculating frontline health and care workers, as well as identifying eligible patients, with GP-led local vaccination services to follow in the coming days.
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GPs have been told they can give the winter flu jab at the same time if stocks allow, although they should not hold up administering either vaccination.
Further vaccination centres and community pharmacy-led sites will join the booster campaign in England from next week and continue vaccinating throughout the winter.
Who is eligible for the booster vaccine?
The government has announced that a third dose will be offered to people aged 50 and over, those in 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 group for Covid (who were in priority groups one to nine during the initial vaccine rollout), will also be eligible for a jab.
While the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have all been approved as safe and effective as boosters, experts have decided to opt for Pfizer as a preference after studies showed it is well tolerated and works well as a third dose.
The Pfizer jab can be given as a booster to those who previously had two doses of AstraZeneca.
If necessary, Moderna may be used as an alternative but only as a half-dose booster shot after studies showed it was effective with few side-effects.
When can I book my jab?
The NHS officially launched its coronavirus booster campaign on Thursday (16 September), with jabs now being administered at hospital hubs in England and Wales.
People will receive texts from Monday (20 Septembe), while letters will be sent to those who are eligible for the boosters later in the week, NHS England said.
Some 1.5 million people will be contacted and encouraged to use the National Bookings System to arrange their appointment.
People will be called forward to book six months after they had their second dose.
Care home residents should expect to get their booster by the end of next month.
Once more data is available, it is expected that boosters will also be offered to healthy people under the age of 50.
The boosters will be given to people over the age of 50 at the same time as flu jabs, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said.
She told a Downing Street briefing: “The data reviewed showed that giving the booster jabs with flu vaccines at the same time is safe and does not affect an individual’s immune response to either vaccine.
“Therefore, Covid-19 booster doses may be given at the same time as flu vaccines.
“We have in place a comprehensive safety strategy for monitoring the safety of all Covid-19 vaccines, and this surveillance includes the booster jabs.
“As with first and second doses, if anyone has any suspected side effects, please report using Yellow Card.”
Why are booster jabs being offered?
The rollout comes amid concerns that the protection offered by the vaccines fades over time.
Ministers believe that providing a booster jab will boost this protection and help to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed by a surge in new coronavirus cases during the autumn and winter.
However, the booster programme has been criticised by some scientists, who argue the vaccine should be prioritised for other countries which have limited supplies first.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan 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.
Mr Van-Tam added: “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 are highly likely to make their returns.”
Could there be another lockdown?
Mr Johsnon is reportedly “dead set” on avoiding another lockdown this winter, with No 10 insisting restrictions will only be enforced as a “last resort”.
Ministers will instead focus on vaccines as the “first line of defence” against coronavirus, supported by testing, public health advice and a new variant surveillance system.
Health officials have argued that Covid-related deaths and hospital admissions have remained relatively stable over the past month, with evidence suggesting the vaccines have been highly effective in preventing serious illness.
Wearing face masks in public places could be reintroduced, along with work-from-home advice and vaccine passports, in the event there is “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS.
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