All over-50s will be offered a third vaccine within days alongside the annual flu programme, after experts approved a booster jab for older people.
On Tuesday, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced that 30million people in priority groups 1 to 9 should receive a third booster dose no earlier than six months after the second dose.
The deployment of the booster programme will follow the same order as the current vaccine rollout, with over-70s receiving the first jabs. Healthcare and frontline workers will also be given a third dose.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the decision in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon and the Prime Minister will set out further details of the government's Winter Plan at a press conference from Downing Street at 4pm on Tuesday.
The JCVI said the preference would be for Pfizer to be used regardless of what vaccine was used in the first two doses, as there is more safety and effectiveness for the jabs.
A half dose of Moderna can also be used, the JCVI said, as a smaller amount has been shown to have a good booster effect. AstraZeneca will not be used in the first instance for the booster programme, but could be added when more data is available.
The Government said that the booster program would ‘absolutely not’ slow down the current rollout.
'This winter could be bumpy'
Prof Wei Shen Lim, the chairman of Covid-19 Immunisation for the JCVI, said: "The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been hugely successful in protecting people against hospitalisation and death, and the main aim of the booster programme is to prolong that protection and reduce serious disease as we head towards the colder months.
"The JCVI is advising that a booster dose be offered to the more vulnerable, to maximise individual protection ahead of an unpredictable winter.
"Most of these people will also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and we strongly advise them to take up this offer as well."
The JCVI said they would look at a third dose for under-50s, but said it may not be needed in younger people because they had a much better immune response from the first two jabs.
Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy Chief Medical Officer, told a press conference from Downing Street that there could be a bumpy winter ahead.
“The UK has had one of the most successful vaccination programme in the world," he said. "Since we began deploying these vaccines they’ve probably diverted in the region of 24million cases and around 112,000 deaths, so incredibly successful to date and remains so.
“But we also know that this pandemic is still active, we’re not past the pandemic. We know this winter could be bumpy at times and other respiratory viruses are highly likely to make their returns. The name of the game is to stay on top of things.
“The advice has gone to ministers and we await the response.”
The NHS is poised to start the booster programme within days, and the public appetite for the rollout can be seen below.
Experts said that the Cov-Boost study, which was testing booster shots, showed that T-cell and antibodies were very good, but a third dose had not yet been measured against clinical disease.
However government scientists said they had "every reason to believe" it would lead to good effectiveness.
Winter Covid plan
On Tuesday afternoon, the Government will set out its blueprint for ‘living with the virus’ through the winter, with a third jab on offer for all over-50s as part of the package.
Ministers believe it will help ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed by new cases as it moves into autumn and winter.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, will also set out the details when he unveils the Government's winter Covid plan for England in a Commons statement.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said further lockdowns would be an "absolutely last resort" under the plan.
“We're about to embark on a massive booster campaign and of course a flu vaccination programme - I am concerned about flu, we haven't had much flu circulating anywhere in the world, and in a bad year we could lose up to 25,000 people to flu," he told Sky News.
“The direction we're taking - a massive booster campaign, a varied surveillance system, a really fit for purpose test and trace system - that is where we think we will be able to end up, confident that we have the infrastructure in place to deliver on this.
“But of course, we have to have contingency planning. All the time we have information coming in on how the virus is behaving.
“Winter gives the virus an inbuilt advantage - boosters reduce that advantage by hopefully taking the most vulnerable out of harm's way.”
He told the BBC the boosters could be the "last piece of the jigsaw to allow us to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic" and by next year there could be a flu-style annual jab.