COVID-19 booster jabs to be offered to all adults aged over 18 years, following new advice

In response to the identification of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended expanding the booster programme to all adults.

Patients aged 18–39 years should be eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster jab no sooner than three months since receiving a second COVID-19 vaccine, following new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) .

In an announcement made on 29 November 2021, the JCVI advised expanding booster vaccination eligibility to all adults in the UK. Sajid Javid, health and social care secretary, later told the House of Commons that he had accepted the JCVI’s advice “in full”.

The announcement comes in response to the designation of the Omicron COVID-19 variant as “a variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on 26 November 2021.

Earlier in November 2021, the JCVI advised that people aged over 40 years should receive a booster dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine six months after receiving their second dose of any vaccine.

However, in its latest advice, the JCVI said a booster dose “should not be given within 3 months of completion of the primary course” — doses one and two of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Booster vaccination should now be offered in order of descending age groups, with priority given to the vaccination of older adults and those in a COVID-19 at-risk group,” the advice said.

Speaking at a press conference, Wei Shen Lim, chair of COVID-19 immunisation for the JCVI, said: “From what we know about the Omicron variant so far, it may be that the vaccines we have at the moment may be less good than against the current circulating Delta variant.

“One way of reducing the impact of this mismatch between vaccine and variant is to increase the strength of the immune response provided by the current vaccine.”

He clarified that increasing the immune response with a booster jab will “broaden protection, hopefully, also against the new variant”.

Also speaking at the press conference, Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the number of mutations in the Omicron variant “makes us worry about a possible effect on vaccine effectiveness”.

“Whilst we wait for the mist to clear on what this concerning variant actually means, there is no time to delay,” he said.

“It’s our opportunity to get ahead and vaccine boosting is the thing we can do most easily whilst we wait for that ‘science-mist’ to clear.”

June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that the regulatory assessment of the vaccines “supports the JCVI’s recommended extension to the vaccination campaign”.

“Our safety monitoring to date shows that  COVID-19 vaccines  continue to be safe and effective for  the vast majority of  people,” she said.

The government launched a COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign in late September 2021, starting with patients aged over 50 years and those at risk of serious disease.

According to the latest data published by NHS England, as of 17 November 2021, there were 1,464 community pharmacy-led COVID-19 vaccination sites in total.

Read more: COVID-19 booster campaign — everything we know so far

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, November 2021, Vol 307, No 7955;307(7955)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.118061

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