Britain's booster vaccine drive will FINALLY get go ahead next week

Britain’s booster vaccine drive will FINALLY get the go ahead next week with No10’s advisory panel set to sign off on ‘mix and match’ top-up doses – as scientist behind AstraZeneca’s jab says mass programme is unnecessary

  • Millions will receive a third Covid jab after data showed they cause a ‘several-fold increase’ in antibodies 
  • Many will receive a different type of coronavirus vaccine because the approach will offer better protection 
  • But AstraZeneca vaccine creator Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert says mass programme may be unnecessary

Britain’s booster Covid vaccine drive is set to finally get the go ahead next week after No10’s advisory panel signs off on a ‘mix and match’ approach to top-up doses.

Millions of Britons are expected to receive a third jab in Autumn after data showed they cause a ‘several-fold increase’ in antibodies, which help fight off the virus.

And many will receive a different type of vaccine to their first two doses because the approach will offer better protection, according to Government insiders. 

But one of the leading figures in the development of the AstraZeneca jab today said a mass coronavirus vaccine booster campaign may not be necessary.

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert said immunity is ‘lasting well’ for most people and suggested extra doses should be directed to countries with a low rate of vaccination.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday said he expects a booster programme to start later in September but he is still awaiting advice from experts on the scale of any campaign to offer extra shots to people.

And Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden today insisted Britain would not be an ‘outlier’ in terms of dishing out third doses and he expects the advice to be given within days.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) yesterday said the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs are safe to use as boosters, but the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has yet to give its advice to ministers.

Public Health England’s report showed unvaccinated people were up to five times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid in August compared to those who had got both doses. The above graph shows the Covid hospitalisation rate among the unvaccinated (red) compared to the vaccinated (blue). The rate for Covid hospitalisation was worked out by dividing the total number of vaccinated and unvaccinated people who were admitted to hospital with the virus by the total number of people in each category in the population in England

But protection from vaccines against infection wanes over time. Studies have shown that jabs are less effective against the Indian ‘Delta’ variant at preventing infection, although they still prevent hospitalisation and death in the vast majority of cases. The above graph shows the infection rate in England by unvaccinated people (red) and vaccinated (blue). The rate for Covid cases in vaccinated and unvaccinated people was worked out by dividing the total number of vaccinated and unvaccinated people who caught the virus by their total population in England

Public Health England’s report also showed Britons were up to ten times more likely to die from Covid if they were unvaccinated than if they had received both jabs. The above graph shows the Covid death rate among people who had not been jabbed (red) compared to those who had received both doses (blue). The data is for August only and England. The rate for Covid deaths was worked out by dividing the total number of vaccinated and unvaccinated people who died with the virus by the total number of people in each category in the population in England

A Department of Health insider told the Financial Times: ‘We’ll be giving Pfizer to those who had AstraZeneca the first time, and AstraZeneca to those who had Pfizer. 

‘It’s the best combination to get as much protection as possible.’

Another Whitehall insider said the mix and match approach is ‘how we’re going to do the autumn booster programme’.

Meanwhile the former head of the UK government’s vaccines task force Clive Dix said it was well-known ‘heterologous boosting’ gives a better immune response than using the same type of vaccine for a booster jab.

He said: ‘The science of vaccinology has shown that if you boost somebody with a different vaccine construct you tend to get a stronger response than if you give them the same one again.’

The MHRA said the boosters should be given at least eight weeks after the second ‘when the potential benefits outweigh any potential risks’, but the JCVI will make a final decision on the dosing interval.

Pfizer boosters can be given to anyone, even if they have been double-jabbed with AstraZeneca or Moderna, the agency said.

But a third dose of AstraZeneca can only be administered to those who have already received that jab, according to the guidance.

Just half a million Britons with severely suppressed immune systems will be invited for a third Covid jab after the Government’s vaccine advisory panel finally signed off on plans for boosters doses last week. Patients who are eligible are listed above

As it stands, booster jabs are only available to around half a million Britons with severely suppressed immune systems, such as those with leukemia, HIV and organ transplant patients. 

And Dame Sarah said only the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should be in line for a third jab and she does not ‘think we need to boost everybody’.

Third Pfizer and AstraZeneca doses approved by regulator as Britain edges closer to booster drive

Britain’s medicines watchdog today approved the AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid jabs to be used as third doses, as the country edges closer towards green-lighting a booster vaccine programme this autumn.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that the two vaccine brands were ‘safe and effective’ when administered months after the initial two injections.

Moderna’s vaccine, the third jab being used as part of Britain’s standard two-dose rollout, has not been approved as a booster, but only because not enough studies have looked at giving the jab as a third dose to healthy people.

The development now paves the way for the Government’s vaccine advisory panel – which is separate from the MHRA – to decide who should get boosters.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is meeting today to determine the scope of the programme.

It will also decide if people should stick to the brand they were originally vaccinated with, or if they would benefit even more if they topped up with a different vaccine.

But the panel is not expected to sign off on plans for a mass booster rollout to the 32million people over the age of 50 in the UK, which had previously been touted.

Instead, it is understood that only the very elderly, people with serious health conditions and other immunosuppressed people will be included. 

She told The Daily Telegraph: ‘As the virus spreads between people, it mutates and adapts and evolves, like the Delta variant. With these outbreaks, we want to stop that as quickly as possible. 

‘We will look at each situation; the immunocompromised and elderly will receive boosters. But I don’t think we need to boost everybody. Immunity is lasting well in the majority of people.’

On Thursday, Mr Javid said, ‘we are heading towards our booster programme’ in England but he wanted the ‘final opinion of the JCVI’.

‘I’m confident that our booster programme will start later this month but I’m still awaiting the final advice,’ Mr Javid said.

Dame Sarah has previously highlighted the wide disparity in vaccination rates between different countries, suggesting jabs should be sent to those areas where availability is low to vaccinate everybody once, rather than some people three times.

She said: ‘We need to get vaccines to countries where few of the population have been vaccinated so far. We have to do better in this regard. The first dose has the most impact.’

Mr Dowden told Sky News: ‘First of all, there is a range of opinion among scientists — this is why we have the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to give us the authoritative advice and we’ll follow that advice.

‘In terms of support for other countries, we are committed to 100 million jabs going by 2022, we have already delivered nine million, so it is not an either/or — we are doing both of those things.

‘It is interesting because I was at an international conference earlier this week talking to my counterparts.

‘Pretty much all nations are looking at doing a booster programme — Israel are already doing it — so we are not an outlier in doing this.’

He said guidance on the criteria for giving booster jabs was expected from the JCVI ‘very shortly’.

The JCVI has already said a third dose should be offered to people with severely weakened immune systems. The expert panel is looking at the latest data from the Cov-Boost trial run by the University Hospital Southampton.

Some 110 participants were given a third shot of Pfizer, either three and a half months or two and a half months after completing a two-dose course of AstraZeneca. It vound both groups had a ‘several-fold increase’ in binding and neutralising antibodies as well as T-cell response. 

The £19.3 million UK clinical trial is testing the Pfizer jab alongside those from AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Janssen from Johnson & Johnson, Valneva and CureVac.

The study is answering key questions such as whether people who have had two doses of AstraZeneca may get more benefit if they have a third dose of Pfizer.

It comes after Britain’s medicines watchdog approved the AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid jabs to be used as third doses, as the country edges closer towards green-lighting a booster vaccine programme this autumn.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that the two vaccine brands were ‘safe and effective’ when administered months after the initial two injections.

Moderna’s vaccine, the third jab being used as part of Britain’s standard two-dose rollout, has not been approved as a booster, but only because not enough studies have looked at giving the jab as a third dose to healthy people.

The development now paves the way for the Government’s vaccine advisory panel – which is separate from the MHRA – to decide who should get boosters.

The JCVI met yesterday to determine the scope of the programme. It will also decide if people should stick to the brand they were originally vaccinated with, or if they would benefit even more if they topped up with a different vaccine. 

But the panel is not expected to sign off on plans for a mass booster rollout to the 32million people over the age of 50 in the UK, which had previously been touted.

Instead, it is understood that only the very elderly, people with serious health conditions and other immunosuppressed people will be included.

Professor Adam Finn, an expert in child health and JCVI member, has given the biggest hint yet that that would be the case.

During a round of interviews just hours before the meeting began, he said it was ‘not clear’ that the UK is seeing waning protection from the vaccines.

He conceded that the jabs may have lost some of their potency in protecting against infections, but insisted they were doing their main job in keeping people out of hospitals.  

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