The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has released interim advice, proposing that people who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus be offered a COVID-19 booster vaccination this autumn, with a "possible" extra booster offered this spring.
Unlike the Autumn 2022 booster campaign that offered the COVID booster shot to all people aged 50 and over, older residents in care homes, those aged 5 years and older in clinical risk groups, as well as health and social care staff, this year's campaign should focus its efforts on those who are older and those who are immunosuppressed, the JCVI said.
However, if a novel variant of COVID-19 emerges that is significantly different in its biological nature compared with the Omicron variant, then emergency surge vaccine responses may be required, the Agency added. This includes a possible "extra booster" in the spring of 2023 for small groups of people at risk.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 vaccination on the JCVI, said the recommendation to start planning for further booster vaccines for people at "higher risk of serious illness" was an effort to help "protect the NHS".
"We will very shortly also provide final advice on a spring booster programme for those at greatest risk," he added.
'More Targeted' Approach
The UK's current COVID status was described by the JCVI as period in "transition" that "continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery".
Looking at the Omicron data from last year (up until 24-30 October 2022), the Agency noted that the highest rates of hospitalisations for coronavirus were in people aged 75+. Younger people had high rates of infection but generally experienced non-severe illness. In addition, since the beginning of 2022, uptake of the first dose of the vaccine slowed to less than 0.01% per week for eligible individuals over the age of 12.
Therefore, the Agency recommended that primary course of COVID-19 vaccination moves to a "more targeted" approach this year, aimed towards "protecting those persons at higher risk of severe COVID-19".
This would include focussing on:
- Frontline health and social care workers
- Care home residents and staff
- Carers aged between 16-49 years, as outlined in the Green Book
- Adults aged 50 years and over
- Individuals aged 5-49 years who are clinically at-risk, as outlined in the Green Book
- Individuals aged 12-49 years in contact with immunosuppressed household members
The JCVI said that smaller groups of at-risk individuals, such as those who are older age or who are immunosuppressed, might be offered an extra booster vaccine dose in the spring season.
The Agency also advised an end to the 2021 booster offer (third dose) for those aged between 16-49 years and not clinically at-risk. Since April of last year, there has a reported decline in the uptake of first booster doses in all eligible people aged under 50, with less than 0.1% receiving the jab per week. The JCVI also said that the third booster dose has "limited ongoing value" in this age group and that the overall impact on vaccine coverage is "negligible".
They did recommend, however, that people aged between 5-49 who have developed a new health condition that places them in a clinical risk group should be offered either primary or booster jabs, as appropriate.