Covid booster shots should be available to those under 50 for relief pressure on the NHS this winter, experts have said.
The rollout of the fall Covid booster vaccine began this week with the aim of protecting the most vulnerable people from an expected surge in coronavirus cases during the winter months.
Up to this point, the backing jab will only be given for people aged 50 and over, health and social care workers and those at higher risk of the disease and there are no signs that implementation will be expanded to younger people without underlying health conditions.
But health experts have said Yo that making a Covid booster shot available to them could help ease the pressure on hospitals if there is a spike in flu and Covid cases in the coming months.
Currently, anyone can get a winter flu shot at their local pharmacy for a small fee, but covid booster shots aren’t available in the same way. The Department of Health has ruled it out.
The rollout boost is expected to be completed by December to ensure GPs and hospitals can focus on other winter NHS pressures, but some health experts said Yo they believe the list of people offered a booster needs to be further expanded to ensure services are not overwhelmed.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said his concerns are mainly about how winter viruses will match up with new Covid variants.
“While boosting the over-50s with these new Covid vaccines will provide protection and help ease pressure on the NHS, much depends on what happens with other respiratory virus infections over the winter, such as the flu, and whether we will face new variants. ,” he said.
“If this happens and a new variant of Covid causes significant outbreaks, we will have to consider expanding the booster campaign to those under 50 years of age.”
University of Edinburgh Roslin Institute Research Fellow Dr Eleanor Gaunt, who is also a virologist, said the booster program should be scaled up “absolutely”.
“These coronaviruses do not offer long-term immunity to anyone and the vaccines will reduce the spread and severity of the disease,” he said. Yo. “Everyone, when they have the opportunity, should get vaccinated. We know that the virus is evolving extremely fast.
“We’ve seen with the Omicron variant that previously people who had all their vaccinations are still getting infected at a really high frequency.”
But Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chairman of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), said booster shots will not be offered to healthy young adults as they are “extremely immune” to previous vaccinations or Covid infection. . “The risk of serious illness is extremely low. It’s essentially insignificant,” he said. Yo.
“The new variants are not a threat to the healthy, although people can still feel bad about them. But they are a threat to people with underlying health conditions and the elderly.”
He added that vaccinating only those with underlying health conditions, as opposed to the general healthy population, is “cost effective” for the NHS, reducing hospitalizations and GP visits.
Who can get a Covid booster shot?
Initially, the booster vaccine was intended only for healthy people over the age of 65, but the rise of the more infectious Omicron variant led to the list of potential recipients being expanded to include people over the age of 50, as well as other vulnerable groups.
The deployment includes all adults over 50 years of age, residents in nursing homes, over five years of age in a clinical risk group and health and social health personnel.
People will be offered the Pfizer or Moderna shots, and some will get a combination vaccine that includes a half dose specifically targeted at Omicron.
The full list of those eligible is:
- Adults 50 years and over
- People with health conditions that put them at higher risk (including pregnant women) ages five to 49
- Nursing home staff
- Frontline health and social workers
- Caregivers from 16 to 49 years old
- Household contacts of people with weakened immune systems
An estimated 96.1% of adults in England, 95.7% in Wales, 94.7% in Northern Ireland and 95.5% in Scotland had COVID-19 antibodies at the 179 level ng/mL or more in the most recent week beginning July 18. 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
According to the ONS, in the week ending September 28, those over 85 years of age accounted for the highest number of Covid-positive hospital admissions per 100,000, at 57.7. For people aged 25 to 44, it was 2.27 Covid-positive hospital admissions per 100,000 people.
But while he admits that the population now generally has an underlying level of immunity, “that doesn’t mean it will be sustained in the future,” Dr Gaunt added.
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “We have to understand that the vast majority of people under the age of 75 will probably take eight or nine months to get their last booster, which means that many of those people will not be protected. of the infection
“They are at risk of prolonged covid that is being completely ignored and vaccines reduce the risk. If you look at the ONS data, the vast majority of people with long Covid are people of working age.
The ONS reported in May that the self-reported prevalence of prolonged Covid was higher in people aged 35 to 49.
The Government advises people to take the booster injection if they meet the requirements, as other variants are expected throughout the year.
In England, just 69.3 per cent of the population have received a third dose of a covid needle prick compared to 88.1 per cent who have received a second dose, according to government figures. For Scotland, 75.1 per cent of the population have received a third dose, compared to 89.5 per cent who have received a second.
In Northern Ireland 73.8 per cent have received a third and 84.8 per cent a second and in Wales 75.2 per cent have received a third dose compared to 89.2 per cent a second .
The autumn booster launch, which follows the spring booster launch for over-75s in March, was timed specifically to avoid the busiest time for the NHS. It comes after Professor Sir Stephen Powis, the health service’s national medical director, revealed that there were 2.18 million emergency room visits over the summer.
The NHS plans to create the equivalent of 7,000 more beds through a combination of new hospital beds, “virtual ward” spaces and other initiatives. It also aims to hire more call operators across the country so that there are at least 4,800 employees working on 111 and 2,500 in 999 call rooms.
The new Prime Minister Liz Truss has promised to fix the NHS is one of their top priorities.
Dr Gurdasani said: “Going into winter with the cost of living crisis adding to the NHS burdens, another wave of Covid is something I don’t think we can deal with.
“There has to be an element of prevention to this. There should be things like messages about wearing high-quality masks in crowded closed environments… ventilation in schools, air sterilization in workplaces.
“We need multilayer methods. I don’t think vaccines alone are adequate.”
The DHSC said it is following the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) in terms of who is eligible for Covid vaccines, including fall boosters.
Covid vaccines are currently free and only available through the NHS, with supply from government-purchased stock.