Up to half a million people in the UK with severely weakened immune systems will be offered a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Health officials have said that these third jabs are not part of the booster programme, which is still yet to be confirmed, but will instead form part of the primary vaccination schedule for 400,000 to 500,000 vulnerable UK patients.
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Here’s what you need to know about the third doses and the plans for the autumn booster programme.
Who will be offered a third vaccine dose?
People with conditions including leukaemia, advanced HIV, severe autoimmune diseases and recent organ transplants who are over the age of 12 are among those who will be given a third Covid-19 jab, following recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The JCVI issued the new advice on Wednesday (1 September), stating that people who were severely immunosuppressed at the time of their first or second dose of a coronavirus vaccine may not have been able to mount a full response to vaccination.
As such, they could be less protected than the wider population.
The committee said studies are ongoing to see how effective a third dose is for this group of people, and as it is considered unlikely to cause any harm, the JCVI has decided that a third jab can be safely offered and might boost protection.
The recommendation does not apply to all those considered clinically extremely vulnerable, but is estimated to include between 400,000 and 500,000 people, or less than one per cent of the population.
Which vaccines will be given?
Children aged between 12 and 17 who are eligible for a third jab will be offered the Pfizer vaccine, while those aged 18 and over will be given either Pfizer or Moderna.
Both of these jabs are mRNA vaccines and almost all of the data so far on third doses is based on this kind of vaccine.
The timing of a third dose will be made by a patient’s specialist doctor, but the jab will usually be given at least eight weeks after the second dose, with some flexibility on that.
GPs and consultants will be involved in identifying eligible patients and delivering jabs.
Is a third dose needed?
The recommendation for a third dose comes following several studies into the effectiveness of two vaccine doses in people with weakened immune systems.
The Octave study, led by the University of Glasgow, found that an estimated 40 per cent of people with immune systems weakened by medical conditions such as HIV or leukaemia, or therapies that suppress immunity, had a poor immune spoors to coronavirus vaccination.
The findings sparked fears that thousands of people could still be vulnerable to severe disease, even after receiving two doses.
A small number of studies have suggested that a third dose could help to boost immunity levels among people with suppressed immune systems, increasing the chances of protection.
Is the booster programme different?
Yes, the third dose being offered to those with severely weakened immune systems is not part of the planned mass booster programme.
Instead, these jabs will be given as part of the primary vaccination rollout for less than one per cent of the population.
The JCVI is still debating whether to go ahead with an autumn booster programme which will be rolled out more widely.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said the government is continuing to plan for a mass booster programme, which is expected to begin this month, pending recommendation from the committee.
The rollout will prioritise people most at risk from Covid-19 and is expected to start with the over 70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable in stage one, followed by the over 50s and some vulnerable groups in stage two.
It was expected that the rollout would begin at the same time as the flu jab to help protect the most vulnerable ahead of winter.
Mr Javid said of the committee’s new advice for third doses: “This is not the start of the booster programme – we are continuing to plan for this to begin in September to ensure the protection people have built from vaccines is maintained over time and ahead of the winter.
“We will prioritise those most at risk to Covid-19, including those who are eligible for a third primary vaccine, for boosters based on the final advice of the JCVI.”
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