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People aged 12 and over who have have “severely suppressed immune systems” will be eligible to get a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the health secretary has announced.
But Sajid Javid said this is not “the start of the booster programme” for the wider population. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said it is “still deliberating the potential benefits” of offering everyone an extra jab this winter.
Today’s decision is based on evidence showing a significant number of people who are immunosuppressed have lower levels of antibodies after vaccination against Covid-19, and are more likely to be severely ill if they do catch the virus.
The JCVI said studies are ongoing to see how effective a third dose is for those people “but it is very unlikely to cause any harm”, and on balance its view is it “can be safely offered as it may increase their protection”.
It is advising either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered as studies have reported an increased immune response in some immunosuppressed people from a third dose of an mRNA vaccine, which the Oxford Astra-Zeneca version isn’t.
The committee added that if it approves a widespread booster programme then it expects the severely immunosuppressed to also be offered one, as this third primary dose is an extra “top-up” for those who may not have generated a full immune response from their first two, while a booster is meant extend the duration of protection from Covid-19.
Javid said: “The NHS will contact people as soon as possible to discuss their needs and arrange an appointment for a third dose where clinically appropriate.
“This is not the start of the booster programme – we are continuing to plan for this to begin in September to ensure the protection people have built from vaccines is maintained over time and ahead of the winter.
“We will prioritise those most at risk to Covid-19, including those who are eligible for a third primary vaccine, for boosters based on the final advice of the JCVI.”
Professor Jonathan Van Tam, deputy chief medical officer, said: “We know there are people with severe immunosuppression for whom the first two doses of vaccine have not provided the same level protection as for the general population.
“The degree of protection will vary by individual, according to degree of immunosuppression and the underlying reasons for that.
“So I welcome the advice from JCVI to offer a third primary dose to those with severe immunosuppression, at a bespoke interval, advised by their specialist clinician, and guided by the UK’s immunisation handbook, the Green Book.
“We should be doing all we reasonably can to ensure that this group is not disadvantaged and a third primary dose is one step in this direction.”
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