It looks like nine million people will be getting their covid booster jabs early…
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been piling the pressure on his scientific advisers to reduce the six month waiting time for booster jabs
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Vaccine advisers say they will consider cutting the waiting time from six to five months amid surging Covid infections across the country.
If a decision is made immediately, almost 9 million more Britons will become eligible for a third dose of the vaccine.
The Mail Online reports: And today Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which set the gap, admitted this was ‘something we will need to consider in due course’.
Professor Harnden said although the current wait hit the ‘sweet spot’ for bolstering immunity, the country’s runaway infections were likely to shift the equation in favour of an earlier third dose.
He also shot down calls for over-40s to be offered booster doses, saying the jabs were still doing their job in the age group because they got theirs more recently.
JCVI chiefs have been flexible with dosing times in the past. They extended the gap between first and second jabs from three weeks to 12 in the second wave to get more people partially protected. In July, they slashed this to eight following a surge in Covid cases.
Concern has been growing that the rollout of the Covid booster scheme has been far too slow, putting the public at risk as cases rise. At present, over-50s and those with health problems are invited for their jab six months after their second dose.
But less than half of those who are eligible have booked their top up jabs, with just four out of 8.7million Britons having got their third dose so far.
Slowness has led to finger pointing, with the Government and the NHS saying demand is not there. But medics on the frontlines of the booster rollout said today there was still confusion about the programme.
Reena Barry, a pharmacist in Surrey, said elderly people were receiving texts inviting them to book appointments but were unable to work out how to access the system. She said her pharmacy was becoming like a ‘surrogate’ 119, with people speaking to her because they did not wish to be a burden on the hotline or their GP.
Following a sluggish start the NHS has now made it so that people who are eligible can book themselves in without having to wait on an invite. Figures showed that yesterday a record 240,000 people booked their third dose of the vaccine in a sign uptake may be starting to tick up.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday called on ministers to cut the waiting time to five months.
Asked whether the gap should be cut to five months, Professor Harnden told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it is something that should be considred, but I think the data has shown that six months is a sort of sweet spot.’
He continued: ‘Whether it is five months or whether it is seven months is not so important, but I think what is important is that people get their booster dose and I think if people could actually get that booster dose they will get that extra bit of protection.
‘So, whether it would be five months, six months, seven months and so on, on the JCVI we advised six months because that’s what the data shows is the sweet spot.
‘But as you know with the 12-week (gap), which was the appropriate gap for the second dose, that was brought down to eight weeks when infection rates were high.
‘Infection rates are high at the moment and it is important that vulnerable people get their boosters.’
He also called for face masks and social distancing to return in the country, saying although vacines can do the ‘heavy lifting’ they cannot ‘do everything’.
The professor, who is also a GP in Oxford, told the programme: ‘We should be still maintaining social distancing, we should be wearing masks in crowded spaces and we should all remain sensible.
‘The Government is currently coming through a winter period where we are going to have flu around as well probably and I think we just need to be cautious really as a society.’
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