Only people who are at higher risk of severe Covid-19 should be offered vaccine booster jabs this autumn, the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.
The interim advice to government (and which could change depending how the virus mutates through this year) has also recommended that a smaller group of people, such as those who are older and/or immunosuppressed, should be offered an extra booster vaccine in the spring.
However, the committee has cautioned that emergency surge vaccine responses may still be required should a novel variant of concern emerge with clinically significant biological differences compared to the Omicron variant.
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,” he added.
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The JCVI also updated on how the autumn booster campaign that began last September has gone. The most recent coverage data (up to 15 January 2023) showed that the vaccination rate for those aged 50 years and over was 64.5% and 82.4% in those aged 75 years and over.
By the end of summer 2022, the coverage of the 2022 spring booster programme had been 77.3% in those aged 75 years and over.
However, there do appear to be signs of ‘vaccine fatigue’, especially in younger cohorts. Following high uptake rates for the initial (third) booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine in December 2021, further uptake was 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 – in other words first and/or second jabs that have been widely available since 2021 – has plateaued in recent months across all age groups, the committee said.
As the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery, the JCVI has advised that the 2021 booster offer (third dose) for persons aged 16 to 49 years who are not in a clinical risk group should close in alignment with the close of the autumn 2022 booster vaccination campaign.
This means that in England the closure of the autumn booster campaign and the first booster offer will be on 12 February 2023.
The JCVI added: “We strongly encourage everyone who is currently eligible for a first booster and is yet to come forward to do so before the offer closes.”
Primary course Covid-19 vaccination also should move over the course of 2023 towards a more targeted offer, the JCVI also said, more focused on people at higher risk of severe Covid-19.
“We strongly encourage individuals who have not had a primary course to come forward for their primary course before the offer closes,” it added.