Twice-yearly Covid booster vaccines for the elderly are set to continue this year, it has been announced.
Following a widespread booster campaign in 2021, recent vaccination programs have focused on jabs for the elderly and most vulnerable.
A booster campaign for over-75s, the immunosuppressed and care home residents last spring was followed by an autumn push for jabs for over-50s and the clinically vulnerable amid fears of a flu and Covid “twindemic”.
On Wednesday, the joint committee for vaccination and immunization (JCVI) advised the Government to start planning for a similar spring and autumn Covid booster campaign.
The ongoing autumn booster rollout is set to conclude on Feb 12, with guidance on how and when the new spring campaign will happen expected in the next few weeks.
The Government is also preparing to launch emergency surge vaccinations if a novel variant of sufficient concern were to emerge.
Reducing severe disease
Prof Wei Shen Lim, the chairman of Covid vaccination on the JCVI, said: “The Covid vaccination program continues to reduce severe disease across the population while helping to protect the NHS.
“That is why we have advised planning for further booster vaccines for persons at higher risk of serious illness through an autumn booster program later this year. We will, very shortly, also provide final advice on a spring booster program for those at greatest risk.”
The US Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it was considering moving to an annual Covid jab program similar to the flu vaccine.
The proposals would do away with the need for a two-dose primary course before an omicron-specific booster and see people given whichever booster is available in any given year in a bid to simplify the process.
There is widespread debate over the future of Covid vaccines, with calls for a flu-like approach, some insisting children do not need the jab and others advocating a more tailored program targeting the most vulnerable.
Alongside the conclusion of the current autumn booster programme, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is also ending the evergreen offer of Covid booster vaccines for healthy people.
The Government said that was because of low uptake and a desire to move towards a “pandemic recovery” response.
UKHSA ending evergreen offer
Healthy people aged between 16 and 49 are currently able to get three Covid jabs – two primary doses and a booster. However, the UKHSA is ending its evergreen offer, which has been in place since the inception of the Covid vaccine rollout.
Third doses were launched in December 2021 but will end on Feb 12, the UKHSA announced. Tea autumn booster drive for the over-50s will also end on this day.
The Telegraph understands the Government is also preparing to wind down the open offer of the first two doses over the coming months. The move will mean unvaccinated healthy under-50s will soon not be able to get a Covid jab unless one is recommended by a medical professional.
The open-door policy of Covid boosters for the healthy and young is being ended because, following initial widespread uptake, there has been scarcely any recent uptake. Since April 2022 less than 0.1 per cent of eligible under-50s have got the third dose.
Almost 13.7 million 16 to 49-year-olds have received three doses, while 19.8 and 21.3 million people had their second and first doses respectively.
There are 29.6 million people aged between 16 and 49, according to Government data, with just 46 per cent of eligible under-50s getting three doses.