/Hundreds of thousands of people in UK to be offered third vaccine dose

Hundreds of thousands of people in UK to be offered third vaccine dose

A third dose of a coronavirus vaccine will be offered to around half a million people who have severely weakened immune systems, the government has announced.

It follows a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that a third vaccine shot should be given to those most vulnerable to the virus – including those with conditions such as leukaemia and advanced HIV, as well as those who have had recent organ transplants.

The government has said that the additional doses are part of eligible patient’s primary vaccination schedule, insisting that the announcement does not mark the start of a booster programme.

READ MORE: UK records more than 200 new Covid deaths – the highest daily rise since March

Health secretary Sajid Javid said the government was continuing to plan for a booster programme to begin this month and said people most at-risk from Covid-19 would be prioritised for that.

Giving its recommendation on additional third doses today, the JCVI said people who were severely immunosuppressed at the time of their first or second dose of vaccine may not have been able to mount a full response to vaccination.

Many people who are immunosuppressed have lower levels of antibodies after vaccination than the wider population, the committee said.

Studies are ongoing to see how effective a third dose is for this group of people, it added.

The doses will be offered to be people above the age of 12, with those who are aged 12 to 17 likely to be given the Pfizer vaccine, and those aged 18 and over either Pfizer or Moderna.

The JCVI said the timing of a third dose will be made by a patient’s specialist doctor, but that they would usually be given at least eight weeks after the second dose.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 Immunisation for the JCVI, said: “We want people with severely suppressed immune systems to have the best chance of gaining protection from Covid-19 via vaccination.

“Therefore, we are advising they have a third vaccine dose on top of their initial two doses, as we hope this will reduce their risk of severe outcomes such as hospitalisation and death.”

People with severe immunosuppression are more likely to be severely ill if they do catch Covid-19, according to the JVCI.

Mr Javid said he has accepted the JCVI’s recommendation to offer third doses to hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.

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The recommendation does not apply to all those considered clinically extremely vulnerable, but is estimated to include between 400,000 and 500,000 people, or less than 1 per cent of the population.

“Today I have accepted the expert recommendations from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to offer a third vaccine dose to people aged 12 and over with severely weakened immune systems as part of their primary schedule following data from trials of those who are immunosuppressed,” Mr Javid said.

“We know people with specific conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 may have received less protection against the virus from two vaccine doses.

“I am determined to ensure we are doing all we can to protect people in this group and a third dose will help deliver that.

“The NHS will contact people as soon as possible to discuss their needs and arrange an appointment for a third dose where clinically appropriate.

“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. We will prioritise those most at risk to Covid-19, including those who are eligible for a third primary vaccine, for boosters based on the final advice of the JCVI.”

A Covid-19 vaccine is administered at a pop-up centre at Heaven nightclub in central London
(Image: PA)

He added that vaccines have “saved more than 105,000 lives and prevented 24 million infections in England alone”.

Professor Jonathan Van Tam, deputy chief medical officer, said: “We know there are people with severe immunosuppression for whom the first two doses of vaccine have not provided the same level protection as for the general population. The degree of protection will vary by individual, according to degree of immunosuppression and the underlying reasons for that.

“So I welcome the advice from JCVI to offer a third primary dose to those with severe immunosuppression, at a bespoke interval, advised by their specialist clinician, and guided by the UK’s immunisation handbook, the Green Book.

“We should be doing all we reasonably can to ensure that this group is not disadvantaged and a third primary dose is one step in this direction. We are also working hard to ensure there are other medical interventions that can be used in these groups, including specific treatments like antivirals and monoclonal antibodies.”

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