GPs may only have to give booster vaccines to vulnerable groups, and not the whole adult population, the chief medical officer has indicated.
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing on 15 February, Professor Chris Whitty said there was evidence that booster vaccines would need to be administered later this year.
However, he added that it ‘shouldn’t be seen as having to do something on this scale continually’, and it was likely that any boosters would be ‘limited’.
Earlier this month, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that GPs could be giving ‘booster’ vaccines to already vaccinated patients, depending on how the strains mutated.
At the briefing, Professor Whitty said there were ‘essentially two reasons’ to revaccinate people: ‘One is if immunity is starting to wane, and we don’t really know how long we’ll have to have between vaccinations – it might be a long period, it might be short – it’s too early really to tell.
‘And the second reason is if we end up with variants of the virus that can escape around the immunity which the vaccine provides. And there’s I think reasonable evidence that we may have to do that this year because there are several variants that look very similar to one another in many ways, which actually could have slightly reduced… effectiveness from the vaccine.’
This would require the vaccine to be redesigned, he said. Mr Zahawi previously said that new variant vaccines could be ready for manufacture within ‘30 to 40 days’ from the sequencing of the mutation.
However, Professor Whitty said it was still unclear how often any revaccination programme would have to be implemented, and who would receive the vaccines.
He said: ‘How regularly we will have to do this, and whether it has to be the whole population – or as is more common with, for example flu, just limiting it to those who’ve got the highest risk from health – we’ll have to see, and it will probably vary year by year.
‘But I don’t think it should be seen as we’re having to do something on this scale continually – I think it will be more limited, and more dependent on how frequently we have to do it.’
Additional reporting by Eleanor Philpotts