A Covid-19 booster jab will be offered to the elderly and most vulnerable people this spring as health experts warn the virus is still circulating widely.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that people aged 75 and over, those in care homes and people aged five and over who are immunosuppressed should be offered a vaccine.
The jab will be offered to those who are eligible around six months after their previous dose, NHS England said, with the booster campaign in England running from 17 April to 30 June.
The spring booster programme will include the Pfizer, Moderna, Sanofi/GSK vaccines, and the Novvax jab will also be available for use only when alternatives are not considered clinically suitable, the JCVI said.
Children under the age of 12 will be offered a children’s formulation of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine people get will depend on local supply.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of the JCVI’s Covid-19 committee, said: “Vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself against Covid-19 and the spring booster programme provides an opportunity for those who are at highest risk of severe illness to keep their immunity topped up.
“This year’s spring programme will bridge the gap to the planned booster programme in the autumn, enabling those who are most vulnerable to be well protected throughout the summer.”
The spring booster programme comes after Covid infections in the UK increased for the fourth week in a row, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Levels have continued to go up in England and Wales but have fallen in Northern Ireland, while the trend in Scotland is uncertain. But despite rising numbers, the ONS said there are signs the latest rise might be slowing down. Infections among school-age children in England have dropped for the second week in a row, although they are still rising among those aged 25 to 49 and the over 70s.
An estimated 1.5 million people in private households in the UK were likely to have Covid in the week ending 21 February, up 6% from 1.4 million the previous week, according to the ONS. This is the smallest week-on-week percentage increase since the current rise in infections began at the end of January.
A surge in the virus in the run-up to Christmas saw infections peak just below three million at the end of December. The figure then dropped for much of January before rising again in recent weeks. The latest increase is being driven by the Omicron variant BA.2.75, which now accounts for more than three quarters (79.5%) of sequenced infections in the UK.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “Covid-19 is still circulating widely, and we have recently seen increases in older people being hospitalised.
“It is important those at highest risk of severe illness do not become complacent and I would encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward once the booster programme starts.”