All over 50s will be offered a Covid booster jab this autumn in a move to head off a wave of respiratory illnesses this summer.
Under the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) action plan a series of other groups will also be eligible for a booster including frontline health and social care workers.
The announcement came after the UK’s full Covid death toll was confirmed earlier this week as having passed 200,000.
Meanwhile, Covid infections in the UK have jumped by nearly 800,000 in a week, with some parts of the country nearing the record levels seen during the spring. Hospital numbers are also continuing to increase, driven by the spread of the latest coronavirus subvariants Omicron BA.4 and BA.5.
A total of 3.5 million people in private households are estimated to have had Covid last week, up 29% from 2.7 million the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The JCVI said that the autumn vaccination rollout was aimed at contending with the new subvariants while free flu jabs would also be on offer in a double-pronged attempt to limit those hit by respiratory illnesses. The aim is to limit hospitalisations with the NHS already under extreme pressure.
Others who will be eligible for the booster will be:
Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults. and those aged 5 to 49 years in a clinical risk group including pregnant women
Those aged 5 to 49 years who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
Those aged 16 to 49 years who are carers
All eligible groups are encouraged to take up the vaccine when it is offered, even if they have had a spring booster, to give themselves the best possible protection against COVID-19 this winter.
Professor Anthony Harnden, Deputy Chair of the JCVI, said: “We have provided our final recommendations for the autumn programme to ensure the NHS and wider health system has time to plan a vaccine rollout well ahead of the winter season.
“The Covid-19 boosters are highly effective at increasing immunity and, by offering a further dose to those at higher risk of severe illness this autumn, we hope to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalisations and deaths over the winter.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will be offering the free flu vaccine to additional groups.
These groups will only be eligible once the most vulnerable, including previously announced pre-school and primary school children, those aged 65 years and over and those in clinical risk groups, have been offered the jab.
The new groups being offered the flu vaccine are all adults aged 50 to 64 and secondary school children in years 7, 8, and 9.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UK Health Security Agency, said: “Widening the eligibility for the flu vaccine will help reduce the number of people getting seriously ill and ease pressures on the NHS, particularly during the busy winter period.
“It is also important that everyone eligible for the Covid-19 booster gets the jab when invited, including pregnant women, who are among those at higher risk. Having Covid-19 during pregnancy can lead to complications. Getting the vaccine, including a booster, offers the best possible protection for you and your baby.”