Covid-19 booster vaccines can now be given to certain vulnerable people sooner than six months after a second dose.
Clinical guidance from the UK Heath Security Agency (UKHSA) has been updated to allow booster jabs to be given earlier to those at highest risk, but only where it makes “operational sense”.
The recommendation will, for example, allow care home residents who may have received their second doses at different times to be vaccinated in the same session, as long as it has been five months since their second dose.
It may also help with other vulnerable groups, such as housebound patients, so that they can have their flu and Covid-19 boosters at the same time, the UKHSA said.
People who are eligible for a booster and are about to receive immunosuppressive treatment, which would hinder their immune system, will be able to get their booster from a minimum of four months after their second dose, under the updated guidance.
The UKHSA said the new flexibility will protect the most vulnerable more quickly.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This updated guidance will ensure healthcare professionals have the necessary flexibility in the booster programme, allowing more vulnerable people to be vaccinated where it makes operational sense to do so – including our loved ones in care homes.”
The update comes as the UK recorded more than seven million booster jabs, after a record breaking week of more than two million being administered in the last seven days alone.
Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said: “Covid-19 booster vaccinations are extremely important in keeping people and their loved ones safe this winter, and this updated guidance will ensure the programme can adapt to best protect certain groups.
“I encourage everyone eligible for their jab to book theirs as soon as possible and secure this protection.”
Meanwhile, people who do not qualify for having their booster sooner will continue to be invited for the jab when it is their turn – six months after their second dose.
The independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that those most at risk to the virus receive their booster six months after their second dose, based on the available evidence.
The Government accepted this advice earlier this year. This advice has not changed and the JCVI keeps its advice under continuous review, using the latest data available.
The latest evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) shows that protection against symptomatic disease falls as low as 65% depending the the vaccine given. The booster programme is designed to top up this waning immunity.
There are more than 500 extra vaccination sites now compared to April this year, with 1,697 vaccination centres in operation in April 2021 against 2,200 vaccination centres in operation now.
Vaccines are also available for those aged 12-15 to offer the best possible protection this winter in schools, as well the option to be jabbed in more than 100 vaccine centres.