LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout is to be extended to people aged between 40 and 49, officials said on Monday, in a bid to boost waning immunity in the population ahead of the colder winter months.
Currently all people aged 50 and above, those who are clinically vulnerable and frontline health workers are eligible for boosters, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that the rollout would be extended.
The advice comes as the UK Health Security Agency released data from a real-world study which found the booster gave over 90% protection against symptomatic COVID-19 for people aged 50 and above.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is leaning on booster vaccines and shots for children to try to withstand winter pressures on hospitals without resorting to another COVID lockdown.
“If the booster programme is successful, and with very high uptake, we can massively reduce the worry about hospitalisation and death due to COVID at Christmas, and for the rest of this winter, for literally millions of people,” deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam told reporters.
“It could be quite a bumpy few months ahead. But everyone has a key role to play in achieving as safe and disruption-free a winter as possible.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that he had accepted the recommendation, and would ask the health service to prepare to offer the vaccine to those newly eligible as soon as possible.
Britain is mainly using the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots in the booster rollout, with people being eligible six months after their second shot.
The real-world study found that protection against symptomatic disease following a booster was 93.1% for people who were initially given AstraZeneca’s vaccine, and 94% for people who had been given the Pfizer shot originally.
The JCVI added that the protection given by boosters against severe disease was expected to be higher.
However, the panel declined to recommend boosters for under 40s, saying it had found no robust evidence of a decline in protection against severe COVID-19 from the original vaccine rollout in that age group.
“It may well be that adults who are under 40 years might require a booster dose or third dose at some point,” Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s Chair for COVID-19 immunisation, told reporters, adding that the committee would keep monitoring the data.
The JCVI also said that all 16 to 17 year olds would be invited to have their second dose of Pfizer vaccine, having previously advised that they only receive an initial shot unless they had an underlying health condition.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kate Holton and Nick Macfie)