'One in each arm': COVID and flu vaccines can be given together, top medic says

A vaccinator administers Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to a woman at a vaccination centre. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization has refused to recommend Covid-19 vaccine for healthy children aged between 12 and 15. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
People aged 50 and over in the UK will be able to receive a COVID booster and a flu jab at the same time, the government says. (PA)

People aged 50 and over can begin having their coronavirus booster vaccine and their flu jab simultaneously, England’s deputy chief medical officer has said.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam announced on Tuesday that 30 million people in the UK should be offered a COVID-19 booster jab this winter.

He said patients aged 50 and over can receive it alongside a flu jab, one in each arm.

Read more: 8 COVID hotspots in England revealed as winter plan unveiled

He told a Downing Street briefing: “Double jabs can start now, subject to the availability of both products.

“The MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] has looked at the data from the trials on giving flu in one arm and COVID in the other at the same time.

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“The antibody response to both of those vaccines is not impaired by doing so, and the tolerability of doing that at the same time is also fine.”

Prof Van-Tam added that it “may not always be the case that it is possible to co-administer those two vaccines in every single patient”.

Britain's Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a media briefing on the latest Covid-19 update, at Downing Street, central London on September 14, 2021. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / various sources / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a media briefing at Downing Street on Tuesday. (AFP via Getty Images)

He said the waiting and observation period surrounding the administration of coronavirus vaccines is a longer process than for flu jabs, so “meshing those two together in practical terms won’t always be straightforward”.

Read more: How bad is the pandemic compared with this time last year?

Booster vaccines will be offered to people aged 50 and over, those in care homes and frontline health and social care workers, the government announced.

Experts said the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should be used as the booster dose for more than 30 million people, and that it was safe to be given alongside the usual winter flu jab.

All those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and anyone aged 16 to 65 in an at-risk group group for COVID-19 will also be eligible for a jab.

Prof Van-Tam said a vaccine that combines protection against flu and coronavirus could be developed in future.

“One day I guess it’s possible that the developers will come up with bivalent vaccines – in other words, flu and COVID in the same jab,” he said.

“It’s really not beyond the bounds of scientific possibility when you consider just how amazing a job it has been to get to where we have got to in such a short time.

Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK. (PA)
Covid-19 vaccine doses in the UK. (PA)

“So that’s always a possibility for the future.”

Despite the vaccine programme, Prof Van-Tam warned of a “bumpy” winter ahead.

Read more: Vaccinating children aged five and over 'next issue on horizon'

He said COVID vaccines had been “incredibly successful” and had so far prevented an estimated 24 million cases and 112,000 deaths.

“But we also know that this pandemic is still active. We are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still,” he added.

“We know that this winter could quite possibly be bumpy at times and we know that other respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] are highly likely to make their returns.”

Watch: 'Bumpy' winter ahead as vaccine booster programme announced