Booster Covid vaccines may not be needed this autumn, one of the Government’s top experts claimed today.
Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which advises No10, insisted top-up jabs may well be required for the very elderly and NHS workers.
But he admitted there was still a ‘high level of uncertainty’ over whether they would be necessary for millions of other Brits.
Scientists had expected the protection given by vaccines to begin to wear off over time but they don’t yet know how long immunity from Covid jabs lasts for.
Professor Adam Finn (pictured on Sky News this morning), from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which advises No10, said top-up jabs may well be required for the very elderly and NHS workers
Influenza vaccines are needed every winter because the virus is constantly evolving to beat the human immune system.
Coronaviruses tend to mutate slower and academics have claimed they’ve yet to see any proof of waning immunity in vaccinated Britons.
Last month Matt Hancock announced at a Downing St press conference scientists were beginning trials of a third jab to check if it offers better protection.
Millions more vaccine doses than necessary have been bought by the Government and a giant order of 60million more Pfizer doses in April was earmarked for a top-up campaign in the autumn.
The Health Secretary said the results of the three-dose study – run by researchers at Southampton University – would shape the plans for a booster programme later this year.
Scientists had expected the protection given by vaccines to begin to wear off over time but they don’t yet know how long immunity from jabs lasts for. Pictured, a stock image of jabs made by Pfizer and Moderna
All over-18s wanting a Covid vaccine can ‘grab a jab’ this weekend
Anyone wanting a Covid vaccine will be able to ‘grab a jab’ this weekend without an appointment at hundreds of NHS walk-in sites.
People aged 18 and over can just turn up at the drop-in sites, which include football stadiums, theatres, supermarket car parks and shopping centres.
The NHS will publicise the sites locally so people can choose the best location for them, or they can be found online.
Experts hope the ease of getting a jab will encourage anyone who has not yet been jabbed to come forward and close the gap in uptake among certain communities.
Latest vaccination figures show London continues to lag behind the rest of England in the proportion of people aged 50 and over who are fully vaccinated, resulting in a summit among health leaders.
An estimated 83.1 per cent of over-50s had received both doses of vaccine by June 20 compared to over 90 per cent in all other regions.
The drop-in centres are open for people having their first dose but can also provide second jabs for the over-40s who had their first at least eight weeks ago, or at least 12 weeks ago for the under-40s.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said the country was ‘now in a race to the finish line’.
He said: ‘It’s now easier than ever to get your life-saving jab, and the more of us who are vaccinated the safer and freer we all will be.
‘So this weekend why not join millions of others and grab a jab to take advantage of this life-saving protection?’
He has promised to set out plans for the autumn booster Covid vaccine campaign in the coming weeks.
But researchers have since raised doubts about whether top-up jabs will even be required to thwart off coronavirus this winter.
Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which played a key role in developing AstraZeneca’s jab, last week said they ‘don’t know yet whether boosters will be needed or not’.
However, he said it was ‘something that needs to be looked at over time but I don’t think we have the evidence to predict the dates’.
Asked about the topic today on Sky News, Professor Finn said: ‘In order to avoid the risk of a winter surge, we may well need to use booster doses, particularly I think in the first instance for the people who had the vaccine [the] longest time ago and who are at highest risk of getting seriously ill when they get infected.
‘So that would include the very elderly and potentially healthcare workers as well, who got the vaccines earlier on in the year.
‘So I don’t think this is a certainty yet, but I think there’s a high probability at least some boosting will need to go on this winter.’
He said experts do not know for certain whether everybody will need a vaccination, adding: ‘We will learn as we go along.
‘It’s not really feasible to go all the way around and do everyone straightaway – as we’ve already seen it has taken more than half a year to work our way through the population.
‘And although vaccine supplies will increase, it’s a massive exercise to go around and immunise everyone again, and that may well not let it not turn out to be necessary, so we’ll see as we go.’
Pressure is mounting on No10 to unveil the plans by NHS bosses who say they need as much time as possible to staff the mammoth operation.
Hospital trusts will have to juggle the campaign with an annual flu jab programme and the backlog of routine care that has amassed during the pandemic.
Experts believe two standard vaccine doses are extremely effective for at least six months and probably much longer – but exactly when immunity begins to fade is not yet known because the jabs are so new.
The latest UK figures show more than 43.66million people have now received their first dose of the vaccine, while nearly 31.91 million have received their second.
All over-18s are now able to book a vaccine appointment. The government said it would offer vaccinations to all adults by the end of July.
No10 wants to jab children but have not yet unveiled formal plans. Experts advising them are against the move currently because of the lack of safety data.
And fears are growing that Pfizer’s Covid jab may cause heart damage in young adults and children.