Household members of adults who have weakened immune systems will be added to Covid vaccination priority cohort 6, after the Government accepted a recommendation by its independent vaccine advisory committee.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the advice, published on Monday, comes in light of ‘growing evidence that the vaccines may reduce the chance of someone who has been vaccinated passing the virus on’.
Therefore, targeting household members for vaccination would limit the spread of the virus to immunosuppressed adults, who due to their weaker immune system are less able to fight infections naturally.
Although the immunosuppressed will have already been offered a Covid vaccination, there is evidence to suggest this group is less protected by vaccines, the JCVI said.
The advice applies to those who are over 16 and living with adults who have weakened immune systems, including those with blood cancer, HIV or who are on treatments such as chemotherapy.
GP-led vaccination sites are currently focusing on cohort six – including over-16s who are clinically vulnerable, with phase two vaccinations set to begin once the cohorts are formally authorised by the Government.
JCVI chair of Covid-19 Immunisation Professor Wei Shen Lim said: ‘[W]e know that the vaccine isn’t as effective in those who are immunosuppressed. Our latest advice will help reduce the risk of infection in those who may not be able to fully benefit from being vaccinated themselves.’
Head of Immunisation at Public Health England Dr Mary Ramsay said: ‘Our surveillance systems and research studies are showing that the Covid-19 vaccines can reduce asymptomatic infection and limit transmission of the virus. By vaccinating those who live with adults who are immunosuppressed, we can further help protect vulnerable people.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I am asking NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I) to take this advice forward and prioritise household contacts of the severely immunosuppressed for vaccination as you recommend alongside priority group 6 in phase 1 of the vaccination programme.
‘My officials have also shared your advice with colleagues leading the Covid-19 vaccines programmes in each of the 4 nations of the UK.’
It comes as patients who are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid have been advised they can stop shielding from 1 April, though they have been told to still ‘take extra precautions’ such as social distancing.