Health Secretary expects advice on booster jabs soon

Advice on booster jabs is expected in the coming days, Sajid Javid said (Nick Potts/PA) (PA Wire)
17:17pm, Wed 08 Sep 2021
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The Health Secretary said he is “confident” a booster programme can begin this month, but is awaiting advice on who should be eligible.

Sajid Javid said he is also expecting to hear from the UK’s chief medical officers in the coming days about any mass rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to confirm last week that a booster rollout will begin this month, saying older people are the priority as autumn and winter approach.

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But the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is yet to provide a recommendation.

The committee was expected to receive data this week from the Cov-Boost trial, which is looking at different vaccines to see what immune responses they give and whether jabs can be mixed and matched.

Mr Javid said he is “very confident” there will be a booster programme, but told Sky News: “In terms of who actually gets it and when, we’re waiting for final advice which could come across, certainly, in the next few days from the JCVI.”

He added: “I’m confident that we can start the booster programme this month.”

His comments come as the head of AstraZeneca said booster vaccines may not be necessary for everyone and rolling out third doses too quickly would be an “unnecessary burden” on the NHS.

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Writing in The Daily Telegraph alongside the company’s executive vice-president of biopharmaceuticals R&D Sir Mene Pangalos, chief executive Pascal Soriot called for patience from the Government, stressing the UK was “a few weeks away” from having a definitive answer on the effectiveness of two doses in providing “continued, protective immunity”.

They said: “Moving too quickly to boost across the entire adult population will deprive us of these insights, leaving this important decision to rest on limited data.

“A third dose for all may be needed, but it may not. Mobilising the NHS for a boosting programme that is not needed would potentially add unnecessary burden on the NHS over the long winter months.

“Because NHS staff and resources are scarce, another national mobilisation would potentially leave us with fewer resources for cancer screenings and the other care provided by doctors and nurses each day.”

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs this week that a booster programme is “ready to go” as soon as the scientific advice for the scheme is signed off.

Around half a million people with severely weakened immune systems and who are most at risk from Covid-19 are to be offered a third vaccine dose, following a recommendation from the JCVI, but that is separate from a booster programme.

World Health Organisation director general Dr Tedros Adhanom has called for a global pause of Covid-19 booster programmes until at least the end of the year to allow all countries to get more of their populations jabbed.

He said there should not be widespread use of third doses for healthy people who are already fully vaccinated with two doses.

The UK’s chief medical officers are currently reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, such as minimising school absences, after the JCVI declined to recommend a widespread rollout on health grounds alone.

Mr Javid said he expects news on that “in the next few days”.

He told Sky News: “I want to give them the breathing space, it’s their independent view and that’s exactly what it should be. But I would expect to hear from them in the next few days.”

Asked how he would feel about children of that age group of his own having jabs, he said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to pass a judgment because I’m waiting for an independent view.”

He said consent will be sought from parents of 12 to 15-year-olds as it has been “for decades” with immunisation programmes, but if a child is believed to be competent enough to make the decision they “will prevail”.

Meanwhile, Mr Javid said he has not thought about a so-called firebreak in October, saying: “I don’t think that’s something we need to consider.”

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He said no decisions are “risk-free” but insisted the “best defence” against another wave of the virus is the vaccine programme.

On Tuesday a No 10 spokesman said it is not true that the Government is planning a lockdown or firebreak around the October half-term, but added that they have “retained contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios”.

They said: “These kind of measures would only be reintroduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on our NHS.”

An expert advising the Government said reducing the size of gatherings is likely to be the first measure should an October firebreak lockdown be considered, and that shutting schools would not be a priority.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Schools would not be top of the list of things we’d consider to shut in this scenario.”

Dr Tildesley, a professor in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, added that it should be kept in mind that, outside the pandemic, “hospital admissions rise in the autumn anyway”.

Government figures on Wednesday showed there had been a further 38,975 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, and a further 191 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.

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