The universal Covid-19 vaccination programme will draw to a close this year, officials have said as they urged people to take up the offer of a jab while they still have a chance.
Meanwhile, healthy adults under the age of 50 who have not taken up the offer of a booster have been given just two-and-a-half weeks to take up the offer before they are no longer eligible.
Despite officials saying that the offer of a jab is “evergreen”, vaccination experts have advised that the universal offer should move “towards a more targeted offer during vaccination campaigns”.
This means that only certain people will be eligible for the primary course of the vaccine – the first and second jabs – at certain times of the year.
At present anyone who was aged five or over on August 31 2022 can still get their primary course at walk-in centres or by using the NHS’s national booking service.
Unjabbed people are being urged to get their vaccine “before the offer closes”.
People who will be eligible for their first jabs during the new targeted programme will be: care home residents and workers; frontline health and social care workers; adults over 50; people who are clinically at risk; carers and people who live in a house where someone is immunosuppressed.
Officials have stressed that if people are newly deemed to be clinically at risk, they will still be able to get vaccinated.
No date has been set for the end of the universal programme but it will happen at some point during 2023.
The NHS in England said that until the universal programme ends, it will continue to operate a “smaller scale” vaccine offer from mid-February onwards to ensure those eligible for first and second doses can still get their jabs.
Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that the initial booster offer for healthy adults aged 16 to 49 should close as the autumn booster programme closes.
In England, the programme is due to end on February 12.
The experts, who advise the Government on vaccination policy, said that the decision was made “as the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery”.
It said that there were high uptake rates for the initial booster – most people’s third jab – when it was first offered in December 2021.
But since then, further uptake has been “low at less than 0.1% per week since April 2022 in all eligible people under 50 years of age”.
Similarly, uptake of the primary course vaccination – the first two jabs – has “plateaued” in recent months across all age groups, the JCVI said.
Commenting on the closure of the booster programme, Steve Russell, director of vaccinations and screening at NHS England, said: “Over the last two years the NHS Covid vaccination programme has administered almost 145 million doses and as a result, the public have widespread protection from Covid-19 and its variants – a remarkable achievement.
“Following the decision by the Government to accept JCVI advice today, I would encourage anyone who has not yet had their Covid booster to book an appointment in the next couple of weeks and make the most of the offer available.
“Once the NHS receives updated guidance for the next phase of the vaccination programme, our fantastic NHS staff will make sure the vaccine is as accessible and convenient to those eligible as it has been in each of the previous campaigns.”
Meanwhile, the JCVI has said that there will be a need for another round of booster shots for those at highest risk in the autumn.
It has issued interim advice to the Government to prepare for the next round of booster shots later in the year.
It said that a smaller group of people should also be offered a spring booster including older people and those who are immunosuppressed, with details to be set out shortly.
Officials have also been advised that they may need an “emergency surge vaccine response” if a new variant emerges.
It also called for research to be conducted on the “optimal timing for booster campaigns”.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 vaccination on the JCVI, said: “The Covid-19 vaccination programme continues to reduce severe disease across the population, while helping to protect the NHS.
“That is why we have advised planning for further booster vaccines for persons at higher risk of serious illness through an autumn booster programme later this year.
“We will very shortly also provide final advice on a spring booster programme for those at greatest risk.”