Covid booster vaccine UK: when will top up third jab be available - and how long does immunity last?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that plans for a vaccine top-up programme will be announced in the coming weeks

There will be a booster jab programme for the Covid vaccine in the autumn, health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed.

Hancock said that plans for the autumn top up programme will be announced in the next few weeks, as the vaccine rollout increases pace across the UK.

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Covid booster vaccine UK: when will top up jabs be rolled out - and how long does immunity last? (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell - Pool /Getty Images)
Covid booster vaccine UK: when will top up jabs be rolled out - and how long does immunity last? (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell - Pool /Getty Images)

When will the booster programme start?

Although the full details of the rollout are yet to be confirmed, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is currently advising that many people should be offered a third vaccine dose this autumn.

From September 2021, the JCVI has advised that the following groups should get a third vaccine dose:

– Immunosuppressed or clinically extremely vulnerable people aged 16 and over

– Care home residents

– People aged 70 and over

– Frontline health and social care workers

Once those groups have been vaccinated, the following groups should be next

– People aged 50 and over

– People aged 16-49 who are in a flu or Covid-19 at-risk group

– People living in the same house as someone who is immunosuppressed

Which vaccine will be used?

Ministers are waiting for the results from a number of Covid vaccine trials, which are looking at the efficacy of different combinations of vaccines.

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: "We are currently trialling which combinations of jabs are the most effective.

"In the next few weeks, when we get the clinical data through on what's the most effective combinations to have… then we'll set out all the details for the booster programme for the autumn."

There is currently research underway to find out which combinations of vaccines might be most effective, as part of the UK’s Cov-Boost trials.

And there are reports that two more vaccines, made by Novavax and Valneva, are due to be approved by the UK’s medicines regulator, MHRA.

Health experts have stressed that preparations must begin as soon as possible if the booster programme is to be effective.

What are the potential issues with a vaccine boost programme?

NHS leaders have raised a number of issues which need to be considered in planning the booster programme, including whether it can be run alongside a flu vaccination programme and other NHS work.

Flu vaccine programmes typically being toward the end of September, and health leaders are concerned that flu could be a bigger problem this year due to lower levels of natural immunity.

There have also been calls to create dedicated vaccination facilities, rather than using community venues and stadiums.

Experts have long said that Covid is not going to disappear and societies will have to find ways to live with the disease going forward.

One way of dealing with the continued presence of Covid might be to have an annual vaccine top-up, or booster, which will maintain immunity to the disease.

There is a possibility that vaccines may need to be distributed more often than annually, and experts want further answers from the government on this.

Other issues which need to be resolved include how long vaccines provide immunity for, whether children will need to be vaccinated and whether people need to receive the same type of vaccine for their booster as their original doses.

How long does the vaccine provide immunity to Covid for?

As Covid is a new disease and the vaccines associated with it are also new, there is no information available currently on how long they will provide protection against the virus.

It is also not known how long people who have contracted the virus will have immunity.

Trials are underway which should give some idea of how long immunity from the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines will last.

Some studies have suggested that the currently available vaccines will offer protection for up to a year, while others have found that people who have contracted the virus once and then had a vaccine may have greater immunity.