A third Covid booster vaccine will be offered to all adults over the age of 50 later this year, in a bid to prevent a virus outbreak in winter.
Clinical trials are said to be underway to research specifically modified vaccines to tackle new coronavirus variants, and to analyse the effects of a third jab as part of a course of inoculations.
The research is said to be supervised by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, according to The Times.
When will third vaccines be given?
It is expected that the third course of the vaccine will be offered to the over 50s in the autumn, in the hope that this will boost protection to the end of the year.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the Government wants the booster vaccines to be “ready for deployment from September onwards” for those that are most vulnerable.
While the rollout of the booster programme has not yet been confirmed, a senior government minister was reported to have told The Times: “We will have a lot to say about the booster programme soon. It’s looking really positive so far.
“We think that the level of protection in the population to any variant will be so high that by Christmas, Covid-19 should have just faded away into the background like any other illness in circulation.
“So much so that we don’t think there will be any need to give a booster shot to younger people because transmission will have got so low.”
Who will be eligible for the booster jab?
All adults aged 50 and over will be eligible to have the booster jab when it is rolled out later this year.
The third vaccine will also be offered to those with underlying health conditions, at a similar time of the year to the annual flu jab, with the booster to be administered in the opposite arm.
Which Covid vaccine will be used?
Mr Zahawi has said that clinical trials are taking place to determine which Covid vaccine will provide the “best boost”.
He said England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty was looking at the protection and durability of the current vaccines, which include Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: “We will make available to Chris Whitty and his team as many options as we can, whether it’s the Pfizer 60 million doses that we announced last week, or the work we’re doing with the Oxford/AstraZeneca team for a vaccine variant, or with Moderna, or with the Novavax vaccine… which works very well against the South African variant, and the Kent variant, or the Scottish vaccine, the Valneva vaccine... we want to give the scientists as much optionality, as many options, to be able to deploy a booster.”
Mr Zahawi added that deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam was looking at whether people should be given a booster of a different vaccine to enhance protection.
When asked why the Government has ordered the Pfizer vaccine for booster shots later this year, he told Sky News that scientists are “looking at the data to see whether the durability of the current vaccination programme, how far it lasts”.
He said: “We want them to be able, if they need to, from September onwards to boost those that are most vulnerable.
“Pfizer is one option, we’re going to give them an AstraZeneca option, we’re working with the team on a vaccine variant.
“Clinicians haven’t yet made the decision when they will need to boost, whether to give more immunity to the most vulnerable, to increase the durability of the protection or to deal with the variant.
“When they decide, I want to give them as much optionality, as many vaccines that were, then they will make those choices.
“There’s a clinical trial that Jonathan Van-Tam is conducting called ‘Cov boost’ which looks at which vaccine delivers the best boost.”
Early findings from the trial have reportedly delivered positive results and might nullify any threat from new and existing strains of Covid.
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