For weeks now, ministers have been getting increasingly frustrated by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s failure (JCVI) to back a wide-ranging programme of booster shots. Today it has finally recommended a third dose for everyone in clinical groups one to nine, which is, essentially, everyone over 50. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has already accepted the recommendation and the programme will begin next week. Will this be enough to prevent the need for another lockdown?
The booster programme should prevent the waning immunity problem, which was one of the reasons why Israel was hit by an unexpected fourth wave. The government is relying very heavily on boosters to avoid more restrictive measures this winter. (The government’s plan B if the situation deteriorates includes Covid certification, in other words vaccine passports for certain events and compulsory face masks). The thinking goes that the immunity boost they should provide will help ease the pressure on hospitals.
The JCVI has also approved the flu jab and the Covid booster being given at the same time, which ministers think will help drive take up of the flu vaccine. But there is concern in Whitehall about how effective this winter’s flu shot will be.
The UK is not alone in offering booster shots; several other wealthy countries are doing the same. These boosters may boost immunity in these populations but there is little doubt that the current emphasis on them will make it even harder to get sufficient vaccines to poorer countries.