Vaccine experts are set to make a decision in the next few weeks on whether Britons over-50 will need a third Covid-19 jab.
If the programme is given the green light, it is expected that over-50s or those clinically vulnerable in England will be offered a booster jab before Christmas.
Experts advising the Government – the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – will deliver guidance before the programme is due to commence on September 6.
People who are most vulnerable to #COVID19 could be offered a booster vaccination from September.
This will aim to ensure that protection from the first and second doses is maintained during the winter ❄️
Find out more: https://t.co/ZelhcIdnTk@PHE_UK pic.twitter.com/6m5Zbk78s1
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) June 30, 2021
Pharmacies will play a significant role role in the programme for delivering third jabs to help top up immunity levels as GP surgeries resume usual duties as much as possible.
The Telegraph said vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has briefed MPs on the plans, which include the aim of delivering an average of almost 2.5 million third doses a week and carving out an increased role for pharmacies.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The Government is preparing for a booster programme and JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) have published interim advice on who to prioritise for a possible third vaccine from September 2021.
“The booster programme – which would ensure millions of people most vulnerable to Covid-19 will have the protection they have from first and second doses maintained ahead of the winter and against new variants – will be informed by the JCVI’s final advice.”
The department said more details will be announced in “due course”, with ministers understood to be waiting for further results from the Cov-Boost trial to see which vaccines should be used in the autumn programme.
We’d like to see widespread involvement of community pharmacy in delivering the Covid booster jab and flu jab together, depending on JCVI recommendations
Thorrun Govind, Royal Pharmaceutical Society
Thorrun Govind, chairwoman of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, said: “Pharmacists across the NHS have played a critical role in leading the successful implementation of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
“We’d like to see widespread involvement of community pharmacy in delivering the Covid booster jab and flu jab together, depending on JCVI recommendations.
“Pharmacy has a strong track record of delivery of vaccination programmes, with over 2.7 million flu vaccinations provided last season, and with more than 600 sites delivering Covid-19 vaccinations currently.”
NHS England said in July that health systems should prepare to deliver booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines between September 6 and December 17 as “quickly and safely as possible”.
In a letter to senior health leaders, the NHS said results from a number of clinical trials are expected over the summer so plans will need to “flex as new information becomes available”.
In June, the JCVI published new interim guidance setting out the priority list for who should get a third jab if a booster programme is needed.
Around 32 million people would be eligible under the plans, including over 50s, health and care workers, clinically extremely vulnerable people, and those aged 16 to 49 who are usually offered a free NHS flu jab, as well as people who are in regular contact with someone who is immunocompromised.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, told BBC Radio 4’s PM that any booster programme is “provisional” at the moment.
He said: “What we are doing at the moment is watching extremely carefully as the evidence comes in during the current wave to see whether there are people – and one would be particularly concerned about the people who got the vaccine earliest, that’s healthcare workers and the very elderly – in whom it looks like the protection they’ve got may be waning away to some extent.