One week warning to book Covid boosters before universal rollout ends for under 50s
The JCVI has is urging people to take up the offer of a vaccine while they still have a chance
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People are being urged to take up the offer of a Covid jab while they still have the chance before the universal vaccination programme draws to a close next week.
Healthy adults aged 49 and younger who have not yet received a full set of coronavirus vaccines can take up the offer of a booster.
The NHS has said Sunday 12 February will be the last day that people aged 16 to 49 can attend a vaccination site for a booster dose. After this date, the booster jabs will only be offered to people considered to be at risk of serious illness, as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The JCVI has also advised that the offer of initial vaccinations to healthy five to 49-year-olds should be withdrawn in 2023 in favour of a more targeted approach, but the government has not yet made any announcement about future policy.
It has already advised that there should be another autumn vaccination campaign later this year, as well as a potential spring campaign for the most vulnerable. There are 2,800 sites open across the country next week, with 391,000 appointments available before the programme scales down.
As the universal programme moves towards a more “targeted approach”, it means that only certain people will be eligible for the primary course of the vaccine – the first and second jabs – at certain times of the year.
Currently, anyone who was aged five or over on 31 August 2022 can still get their primary course at walk-in centres or by using the NHS’s national booking service. People who will be eligible for their first jabs during the new targeted programme include:
- care home residents and workers
- frontline health and social care workers
- adults over 50
- people who are clinically at risk
- people who live in a house where someone is immunosuppressed
Officials have stressed that if people are newly deemed to be clinically at risk, they will still be able to get vaccinated. A date for the end of the universal vaccination programme has not yet been set, but it is expected to happen at some point during 2023.
The NHS in England said that until the universal programme ends, it will continue to operate a “smaller scale” vaccine offer from mid-February onwards to ensure those who are eligible for first and second doses can still get their jabs.
The JCVI, who advise the government on vaccination policy, said the decision to scale down the univesal programme was made “as the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery”.
The JCVI said uptake rates were high for the initial booster rollout – most people’s third jab – when it was first offered in December 2021, but it has since been “low at less than 0.1% per week since April 2022 in all eligible people under 50 years of age”. Similarly, uptake of the primary course vaccination – the first two jabs – has “plateaued” in recent months across all age groups, the JCVI added.
So far 15,000 people have booked a Covid vaccine for next week, the NHS said, after 17.3 million people had a booster jab over the winter. Overall, 144.5 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been delivered across Britain since the start of the pandemic.
Steve Russell, director of vaccinations and screening at NHS England, said: “There is just one week left of the autumn booster campaign and so if you are eligible for a booster but have yet to take up your latest dose, please do so before the end of next week.
“Whether you have had previous doses or a bout of Covid, we know that a booster is the best way to maintain protection against serious illness from Covid for yourself and your loved ones, so please do make the most of the offer while it is available and give yourself both protection and peace of mind for the year ahead.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay added: “Our hardworking NHS staff and volunteers have done an incredible job getting jabs into arms, and they’re on hand to top up your immunity and keep you and your loved ones protected.”
Most vulnerable to get boosters in autumn
The JCVI has also said there will be a need for another round of booster jabs for those at highest risk in the autumn, and issued interim advice to the government to prepare for the next booster round later in the year.
It said that a smaller group of people should also be offered a spring booster including older people and those who are immunosuppressed, with details to be set out shortly. Officials have also been advised that they may need an “emergency surge vaccine response” if a new variant emerges.
It comes after Covid infections in the UK have dropped for a fourth week in a row, and are at a level last seen at the start of last autumn. Infections are not falling across all age groups, with increases in England among primary and secondary school children and for 35 to 49-year-olds.
The recent drop in Covid patients in hospital has also come to a halt, as health experts said there were “concerning” signs the number may be starting to rise.
A total of 941,800 people in private households in the UK were likely to have had Covid in the week ending 24 January, down 15% from 1.1 million the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics. This is the lowest UK total since the week ending 14 September 2022.