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UK spring Covid boosters will target elderly and vulnerable

The UK’s spring Covid-19 vaccination booster campaign will be targeted at the elderly and the most vulnerable to top up their immunity, following advice from the government’s expert advisory committee.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said on Tuesday that he had accepted a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to offer a booster dose to adults over 75, care home residents and immunosuppressed people aged five or over.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI’s Covid-19 committee, said the spring programme would “bridge the gap” to the autumn campaign, “enabling those who are most vulnerable to be well protected throughout the summer”. 

“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,” he added.

NHS England said late last month that jabs for care home residents should start in early April. The NHS plans to invite the other specified groups for a spring booster before the end of June.

Confirming his acceptance of the JCVI’s advice, Barclay said the campaign would “top up the protection of those considered at highest clinical risk”.

In 2022, the spring campaign also targeted the oldest and most vulnerable people, but the autumn programme offered vaccines to a broader population, including all adults over 50 and frontline health and social care workers.

This year’s campaign will use the updated BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which target two strains of the virus and were used last autumn.

For the first time, the Sanofi/GSK vaccine, targeted at the Beta variant, may also be used after it was authorised by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the UK regulator, in December.

The jab was developed by the French drugmaker Sanofi and uses the adjuvant made by UK vaccine maker GSK to boost its efficacy.

Some individuals may also be offered the Novavax jab if others are not considered suitable.

Dr Catherine Hyams, principal investigator on the respiratory disease study AvonCAP at the University of Bristol, said the booster had not been recommended more widely because the vaccines protected most people for longer than six months.

“There is evidence that waning immunity following vaccination can occur earlier in individuals of older age and those who are immunocompromised, and these individuals also have increased risk of severe Covid-19.”

Overall, the number of patients with Covid admitted to hospital in the UK fell in the past week from 9.39 to 8.62 per 100,000 people, according to the Office for National Statistics.

But Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, England’s public health body, warned that Covid continued to circulate widely and that the number of older people hospitalised had recently increased.

“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.”