The U.K.’s vaccine advisory committee on Monday backed extending the booster program to people aged 40 and over as the country faces persistently high levels of coronavirus infection and the health service warns it is facing intolerable pressure.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises that those aged 40 to 49 should be offered an mRNA booster six months after their second dose, irrespective of the vaccines given for the primary course.
The U.K. began administering third doses of the vaccine to the over-50s and those in a COVID-19 at-risk group from September. The gap has been reduced to five months after the primary course and more than 12 million boosters have been given to date.
The advice comes as the U.K. Health Security Agency publishes data Monday showing that people who have a booster vaccine gain increased protection against symptomatic COVID-19 infection to over 90 percent. Protection against more severe disease is expected to be even higher.
In addition, the JCVI advises administering a second dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine to those aged 16 and 17, at least 12 weeks after the first dose or, if they have been infected, 12 weeks following a positive COVID-19 test result, whichever is later.
The committee said that protection from the first dose may start to wane. A second dose could also help to cut the risk of hospitalization and transmission to vulnerable close contacts.
The JCVI noted that reported rare cases of heart inflammation after the mRNA vaccines happen more frequently after the second dose. But data has shown that a bigger gap between doses reduces the rate of this rare side effect.
“These vaccinations will also help extend our protection into 2022,” said Wei Shen Lim, chair of COVID-19 immunization at the JCVI.
The news comes as health leaders are waving red flags daily about the pressure their health system is under, faced with high levels of COVID-19 cases and a huge backlog of other health needs.
A report published by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives exposed significant bottlenecks in the ambulance service in England, with huge delays in handing over patients.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the ambulance services are “the canary in the coalmine when it comes to the winter crisis the NHS is facing.”
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