Children aged 16 and 17 will also be eligible for a second dose to increase protection against infection
The number of people who have received a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK has climbed to about 12.6m © Carl Recine/Reuters
The UK has expanded eligibility for Covid-19 booster shots to people in their 40s in an attempt to stave off waning immunity and reduce the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed this winter.
Children aged 16 and 17 will also be eligible for a second dose of a Covid jab 12 weeks or more after their first inoculation, following new guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation announced on Monday.
The booster policy change follows the publication of new data from the Health Security Agency, which show that the risk of symptomatic Covid for booster shot recipients was cut by more than four-fifths compared with those who had only received two doses.
Sajid Javid, UK health secretary, confirmed that “all four parts of the UK” would follow the JCVI recommendations, adding: “I have asked the NHS to prepare to offer those eligible for a vaccine as soon as possible.”
Evidence provided to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) found that the protection against symptomatic Covid offered by all vaccines began to wane 10 weeks after the second dose, falling significantly after four to six months.
Protection against symptomatic infection was 93.1 per cent for people aged 60 and above who originally received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and 94 per cent for BioNTech/Pfizer recipients a fortnight after the booster shot was administered.
The UK has relied on the Pfizer jab and half doses of the Moderna vaccine for its booster campaign.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI’s Covid-19 committee, said the expansion of boosters to 40 to 49-year-olds and second doses to 16 and 17-year-olds were “important ways to increase our protection against Covid-19 infection and severe disease”.
“These vaccinations will also help extend our protection into 2022,” he added.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said that the booster programme was now moving at “considerable pace” and had “fundamentally changed the course of the pandemic” but stressed that the coming period “could be quite a bumpy few months” for the NHS.
“For Christmas and the winter period, we can expect respiratory viruses to be around and we’re particularly concerned that the flu will come back and add to our problems,” he said.
The widened booster eligibility is the first sign of the UK edging towards a universal booster rollout. Israel and three EU nations — Lithuania, Hungary and Greece — have approved booster shots for all adults.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London who sits on the government’s Nervtag advisory group, welcomed the JCVI guidance, adding that “it would be sensible to expand the booster programme to everyone [in the UK] once evidence of waning immunity in younger groups accumulates”.
The JCVI said in a statement they would “closely review” emerging data on booster shots and “develop further advice in due course” on boosters for healthy under-40s.
Recommended The Big Read The Covid drugs are finally here
The announcement comes after four days of increasing infection rates in the UK. On Sunday, 36,517 new Covid cases were recorded, up about 20 per cent on the same day last week when 30,305 people tested positive. Meanwhile, Covid-related hospital admissions and deaths have fallen in the latest week.
Some 12.6m people in the UK, or more than 60 per cent of those previously eligible for a booster shot — healthcare workers, the over-50s and clinically vulnerable individuals — have received the jab.