Booster vaccines could be given out EVERY winter, SAGE adviser reveals

Booster jabs might be needed EVERY winter, SAGE adviser says as minister admits there are plans for ‘an annual Covid vaccination programme’ — but millions still haven’t had vital third shot

  • Dr Mike Tildesley said that Covid, like flu, would continue circulating every year
  • He warned this would mean people’s immunity may need to be topped up again
  • Former jabs minister Nadhim Zahawi said boosters may be dished out annually
  • Some four in ten eligible Britons are still yet to receive their boosters, however 

Dr Mike Tildesley said boosters could be rolled out every year

Vulnerable Britons might need to get a booster Covid vaccine every winter,  Government scientists and ministers claimed today.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a modeller on one of SAGE’s subcommittees, said the virus would continue to circulate for decades to come like the flu. 

Dr Tildesley told Sky News: ‘It’s possible that every year… we’re having to go out and get our Covid jabs in the same way a lot of people are currently getting their flu jabs.’ 

Education Secretary and former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi also made it clear that the Government intends to roll out booster doses annually.

‘Ultimately our plan, we will, I hope be the first major economy to transition from pandemic to endemic and have an annual vaccination programme,’ he told The Sun.

Other experts have said that a never-ending cycle of boosters might not be needed because Covid will one day ‘fade into the background’. 

It is hoped that there will be so much natural protection down the line that the virus causes a much more mild illness even to those most at risk. 

Immunity from the current Covid jabs has been shown to wane at about six months. Vaccine-makers have turned their attentions to making new, variant-resistant jabs that do not see their effectiveness drop quite as sharp as the current crop.  

But the current booster roll out has already fallen into disarray with millions left struggling to get appointments. 

Some four in ten eligible Britons are still yet to receive their third doses, with ministers blaming the low uptake on people failing to come forward.

But elderly patients say they are unable to book appointments over the phone and don’t know how to work the online system. 

Ministers have tried to speed up the roll out today by allowing people to book a month before they become eligible.   

The above graph shows the pace of the current booster drive with the number of doses given out daily (yellow bars) and the total number administered (green line). There are calls for the pace to be quickened to avoid millions of vulnerable adults being left unprotected

Ministers today opened appointments up early to allow people to book their third dose before they became eligible. There was a five-minute queue this morning

Some 300,000 boosters are being rolled out every day on average, although there are calls for the pace to be quickened to 500,000. 

Dr Tildesley, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI_M), told Sky News people may need top up shots every year. 

Brian Bull and his partner Jennifer still have not received their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

Mr Bull, 83, has been due for his jab for nearly a month but has been turned away by a clinic near his home in Appleby, Cumbria, every time he goes to it. 

He added: ‘The NHS website said there was a walk-in centre at Penrith. We drove the 14 miles only for the receptionist to say she knew nothing about it.’

They were directed to a rugby club but ‘they weren’t holding sessions that day’. 

He added: ‘We see so many advertisements from the NHS telling us to get our boosters, but it’s very hard to actually do it.’

And the rollout has been a ‘shambles’, said a retired police officer forced to go in person to his West Yorkshire GP to book his booster.

Keith Woodland, 74, who has an irregular heartbeat, was unable to book after he got an NHS text telling him to get a third jab. 

‘After calling 119 I tried again but the system was down. I was told the surgery might have the wrong details about me.’ 

He said: ‘It’s a shambles. All these senior politicians who say people aren’t booking jabs – when we can’t do it anyway.’

Asked whether the booster programme was going at the right pace, he said it was ‘going in the right direction, but there clearly is work to do for the people over 50, for vulnerable adults’.

He added: ‘Immunity will be starting to wane from the second jab so it is really important that that acceleration continues and hopefully we get as many people protected as possible as we move into the colder months.’

Asked whether the UK could face a lockdown this winter he said it was a ‘long way away’, but added that other measures might be needed if there is not ‘good immunity across the population’.

He said: ‘I would hope that, with a very successful vaccination campaign, the idea of a winter lockdown is a long way away.

‘But it is certainly true that if we don’t get good immunity across the population, there may need to be perhaps further measures taken.

‘So it’s really important that we encourage people to come forward when eligible to take those booster jabs.’

Professor Peter Openshaw, a SAGE adviser on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said the need for boosters had become ‘very clear’.

He told Times Radio: ‘We don’t know how long a vaccine is going to last until we’ve had sufficient time to watch the immunity drifting downwards and I think that’s something which has become very clear recently is that these vaccines don’t appear to be forever – they do provide a lot of protection, but they have to be boosted.’

But Professor James Naismith of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and a biologist at Oxford University suggested boosters would not be necessary in years to come because Covid will become so mild.

Echoing what many other experts have predicted, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I suspect it [Covid] will fade back into the background as a serious disease.’

More than 30million over-50s, vulnerable adults, and health and social care workers are eligible for a third dose of the Covid vaccine.

They can only come forward for one six months after they had their second.

Until today, they had to wait on a call or letter from the NHS confirming that they were now eligible.

However, the Department of Health confirmed today that people can now book their third dose a month in advance. 

People can also book by calling 119 or visit one of the hundreds of walk-in sites across the country without an appointment   

Some 10million booster shots have already been dished out, but official figures show that by this time six months ago 16million had already got their second jab.

At the current rate of 300,000 boosters being rolled out every day, nearly 10million at-risk Britons will still be left unprotected over the festive period.

There are currently no plans to expand the roll out to younger age groups, or to repeat it next year. 

Last night the Labour party wrote to Health Secretary Sajid Javid to warn him he has allowed the ‘wall of defence to crumble’, risking another national lockdown.

They are calling for urgent action to speed up booster and children’s jabs, such as recalling volunteers and retired healthcare workers and using more community pharmacies.

Over-50s said yesterday they were spending hours on the phone to GPs trying to get appointments, with one women only getting through on her 92nd try.

Red tape is also hampering the roll out, with another 94-year-old woman turned away from a jab centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, because she arrived a day early.

Patients are being encouraged to use the NHS walk-in finder for their nearest centre, supposed to be within ten miles.

But some have been told they must travel tens of miles to get their vaccine as many GP surgeries and pharmacies do not offer top-up jabs.

Pensioners on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent were advised by the NHS to go to Southend in Essex, a 128-mile round-trip, for their third dose as local centres do not have supply.

MPs are being bombarded with requests for help from constituents.

Writing to Mr Javid, Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Nobody wants to see any more Boris Johnson lockdowns so getting a grip of the stumbling vaccination programme is urgent for ministers.

‘The booster campaign has been slow getting off the ground, the third doses for immunocompromised branded “chaotic”, and there are still pockets of the country with worrying below-average rates of second dose.

‘Tory complacency has allowed the wall of defence to crumble.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are working at speed to get people boosted and our vaccination programme is making great progress.’

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