Covid vaccinations will continue with an immediate booster jab campaign to tackle variants once the first and second jabs have been completed, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Speaking this afternoon in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock told MPs he wanted to be ‘absolutely clear that a booster shot programme will happen this autumn’.
Previously, the Government had said it was planning a booster campaign which was ‘likely’ to run in autumn/winter, while the BMA has indicated Covid booster vaccinations could become core contractual work for GPs.
Mr Hancock said the booster campaign would be ‘rolled out in a similar way to the first two jabs’ although there would be ‘some differences’ – especially if research concludes it can be co-administered with the flu jab, which would be ‘logistically easier’.
He said this comes as the UK has detected 103 cases of the new variant first detected in India, and following analysis of data on whether it transmits more easily or is a threat to vaccines, has made the decision to add India to the red list of countries.
Some 557 cases of the variant of concern first detected in South Africa have also been identified, the health secretary added.
Mr Hancock said: ‘We must also turn our attention to what comes next. The biggest risk to our progress here in the UK is a new variant, that the vaccines don’t work as well against. We know from our response to other viruses like flu that we need updated vaccines to tackle mutated viruses.
‘So I can tell the house that as we complete the first programme of first and second jabs, we are ramping up plans for a booster shot, to make sure our vaccines stay ahead of the virus. We have already procured enough vaccine doses to begin the booster shots later this year.’
Later, responding to a question on whether the rollout would be on a ‘similar basis’ to the initial vaccination programme, Mr Hancock said: ‘The booster shot programme will be rolled out in a similar way to the first two jabs. There will of course be some differences, not least because of the interaction of an autumn Covid vaccination programme with the autumn/winter flu vaccination programme.
‘We still need the final clinical results as to their interaction – whether you can have them both at the same time – which would obviously be logistically easier, but these matters need to be resolved.’
And he added: ‘The reason for the announcement today is that we want to be absolutely clear that a booster shot programme will happen this autumn, later in this year, and we are determined to make it as efficacious as possible. Because ultimately, dealing with these new variants will require booster shots, especially for the most vulnerable.’