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Covid boosters could be given later than autumn ‘if needed’, says deputy CMO


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The Covid vaccine booster campaign planned for the autumn could be pushed back depending on when the jabs are ‘needed’, the deputy chief medical officer for England has said.

Earlier this week, the Government announced it has secured 60 million additional doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be used alongside other jabs for its booster programme – due to take place in the autumn.

But speaking at a televised press briefing on Wednesday, deputy CMO Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that the Government is planning booster doses ‘either for the autumn or for later if later is when they are needed’.

It is ‘not yet precisely known’ when boosters will be given, who they will be given to and what the booster vaccines will look like, he added.

Speaking more widely about the UK’s work on vaccination, he said: ‘We are the ones who are trying to generate the data on mix and match schedules for vaccines, [and] are already very deep in planning to understand vaccine studies to look at booster doses for vaccines – either for the autumn or for later if later is when they are needed.’

He later said: ‘We’ve always framed this in terms of the need to potentially revaccinate our population – or at least parts of it – at some point in the future not yet precisely known, and not yet precisely known who and possibly with variant vaccines that are again not yet precisely known.’

The booster programme will also be ‘partly dependent on what the manufacturers can give to us’, as well as a ‘mix and match’ booster study due to start in June, Professor Van-Tam added.

He said: ‘We’ll get an idea then of which give you the highest boost, the broadest boost against a range of coronavirus variants and indeed what the timings look like on that.

‘That is another reason why the vaccines taskforce has invested in contracts with not just one or two manufacturers but six or seven, so that we have that optionality so we can always try and do the very best thing scientifically, within the constraints of what we can realise in terms of supply at the time.’

Professor Van-Tam also used the briefing to thank frontline doctors who ‘somehow have fitted in the consenting and recruiting of patients’ into studies alongside the ‘appalling workload’ they are facing.

Earlier this week, the Government said the booster programme will be ‘based on clinical need’ to ‘protect the most vulnerable ahead of the winter’.

However, it added that the final policy will be informed by advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the results of clinical trials into the interchangeability of Covid vaccines, which are expected as early as May.