COVID-19: Prioritising booster jabs over vaccinating children will 'reduce deaths and hospitalisations'

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Coronavirus booster jabs should be prioritised over vaccinating children if the UK wants to reduce deaths and hospitalisations, a leading scientist has told Sky News.

The protection from vaccines starts to wane within six months, according to the Zoe study, and Professor Tim Spector, the lead author of the research, said the UK needs to be clearer about the booster jab rollout.

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"If our aim is to reduce deaths and hospitalisation, then booster jabs are what we should be prioritising above vaccinating children because there are a limited supply of vaccines," Prof Spector said.

"But if we want to drive down cases then we need to go into children."

The government has said coronavirus vaccine booster jabs will be rolled out in September but has yet to release further details.

The epidemiologist said there needs to be a precise plan for the booster rollout as many people who have contracted COVID-19 and are double jabbed will not need a third dose.

"If you have had a natural infection and two jabs, it's essentially like already having your booster," Prof Spector added.

"We need a much more precise way of giving boosters if it is going to be effective. Boosters are the way, but we need to be selective and it needs to be antibody led."

The Zoe COVID study is the world's largest ongoing research into the disease.

It found that in a reasonable "worst-case scenario" vaccine protection could fall to below 50% for the elderly and healthcare workers by winter.

The Pfizer-BioNTech jab was 88% effective at preventing coronavirus infection a month after the second dose.

But the protection decreased to 74% after five to six months - suggesting protection fell 14 percentage points in four months.

Protection from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine fell to 77% one month after the second dose.

It decreased to 67% after four to five months - suggesting protection fell by 10 percentage points over three months.

Researchers say that while protection appears to decrease steadily, the individual risk may vary due to individual variation in antibody duration.

Prof Spector said on average, vaccine protection falls by 3% a month and that by the end of the year the risk from the virus will be two-fold and "you will get more deaths and hospitalisations".

"It's a big unknown at the moment. The rate of decrease is faster than we had anticipated from the early studies," he said.

Prof Spector said that reaching zero COVID will be difficult because of cases being imported from abroad.

He said the government should focus on reducing deaths and "getting our hospitals free again".

"We are surrounded by other countries and international travel isn't going to stop," he added.

"The idea of having zero COVID is nonsense and not going to happen.

"We are going to have to look at the European-wide and global perspective to try and reduce the cases.

"At the moment, one reason cases are so high - despite our vaccinations - is probably because we have let go of our restrictions."

The Zoe COVID Study launched an app feature last December to enable logging of coronavirus vaccines and monitor real-world side-effects and effectiveness in its cohort of over a million users.

It used data from vaccines which were recorded from 8 December 2020 to 3 July 2021, and from infections that occurred between 26 May this year when the Delta variant became dominant, and 31 July.

The study's results were slightly adjusted to give an average risk of infection reduction across the population.

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