Britons with weak immune systems to be offered third Covid jab

Covid-19 vaccines updates

About 500,000 people in the UK with severely weakened immune systems will be offered a third dose of a Covid-19 jab in an effort to protect them from the virus ahead of the winter months, UK health secretary Sajid Javid said on Wednesday.

He said the decision was based on the recommendations of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, but stressed the move was not the beginning of the long-awaited booster campaign. Ministers and scientists are still working on plans to roll out that out soon.

“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,” he said.

The JVCI’s recommendations come as evidence mounts that a large proportion of immunosuppressed people did not produce a sufficient immune response to their first two doses.

General practitioners and consultants are expected to contact those eligible, from age 12 upwards, including those with leukaemia, recent organ transplant recipients and some who are HIV-positive.

They will be offered either a BioNTech/Pfizer or Moderna jab for their third dose, both of which are based on mRNA technology, rather than the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, even if they had received the more widely-used vaccine for earlier doses.

Patients would become eligible for a third dose as early as eight weeks after their second jab, but specific decisions on timing would be made in consultation with their specialist, the JVCI said. Immunosuppressed patients aged between 12 and 17 are recommended the Pfizer vaccine.

Dr Maggie Wearmouth, a JCVI member and general practitioner, told the FT that interim findings from the Octave study of about 600 immunosuppressed patients, published in August, “paved the way” for the decision.

The study found that 40 per cent of immunosuppressed patients mounted a poor immune response four weeks after their second dose and 11 per cent failed to generate any antibodies at all.

“It was clear from the Octave study that these people were the most vulnerable and in the most pressing need of a third dose,” said Wearmouth. “There are no supply constraints — we’re just trying to deploy vaccines in the most sensible way clinically to get to people in the right order.”

The JCVI is still considering whether to proceed with a widescale booster campaign for the elderly and other vulnerable people on the shielding list. But the committee is continuing to analyse data on waning immunity and awaiting the results from Southampton university’s CovBoost study into mixing and matching seven different Covid-19 vaccines before handing down any further recommendations.

A total of 24 countries, with populations of more than 4m people and vaccination coverage higher than 50 per cent, have either committed to or begun a booster campaign, according to an FT analysis.

Israel has rolled out booster shots to all over-40s and the US government has indicated any fully-vaccinated person will be able to receive a third dose eight months after their second jab. However, most EU nations, including Germany and Sweden, have said that for now, like the UK, they will only roll out third doses to clinically vulnerable people.

UK health officials warned that some immunosuppressed people would not muster a sufficient immune response even after a third dose. Jonathan Van Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said scientists were “working hard” to ensure other medical interventions, such as antivirals and monoclonal antibodies, were available to them.

Any booster programme could include fourth doses for immunosuppressed people, the JVCI said.

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