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UK to end Covid-19 booster shots for those under 50 

The UK will stop offering Covid booster shots to healthy people aged under 50 from next month, in the first major scaling back of its universal Covid vaccination programme. 

In its interim advice, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), the independent advisory committee that advises UK health departments on immunisation, advised that “the 2021 booster offer (third dose) for persons aged 16 to 49 years who are not in a clinical risk group should close in alignment with the close of the autumn 2022 vaccination campaign”.

The JCVI this week said the axing of the UK’s booster programme marks the continuation of a transition away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery, as people continue to adjust to life post-Covid.

However, it said that “otherwise healthy persons aged 5 to 49 years who develop a new health condition in 2023 that places them in a clinical risk group would be offered primary vaccination and/or a booster vaccine during the next seasonal vaccination campaign, as appropriate. Vaccination outside these campaign periods would be subject to individual clinical judgement”.

Britain is expected to continue to allow people to receive first Covid-19 vaccine doses to anyone aged 16 or over, but boosters will not be the same. Those who are unvaccinated, however, and want either a first or second dose of the Covid vaccine will only be able to do so at certain points during the year, according to health chiefs. The Daily Mail has reported that experts recommended Downing Street to produce a “targeted offer” of vaccination, similar to the annual flu jab drive.

The JCVI said that primary course Covid-19 vaccination should move, over the course of 2023, “towards a more targeted offer during vaccination campaigns to protect those persons at higher risk of severe COVID-19”. This means that people who are at higher risk of severe Covid-19 could be offered a booster dose in autumn 2023 “in preparation for winter 2023 and 2024”.

This would include adults over 50 years old, residents of care homes and staff,  frontline health and social care workers, those aged 5 to 49 in a clinical risk group, those aged 12 to 49 who are household contacts of those with immunosuppression, and those aged 16 to 48 who are carers. The roll-out of additional boosters this coming autumn would mean that tens of thousands of people in the UK will have been offered eight coronavirus vaccines by the close of 2023.

It said that research should be considered to inform the optimal timing of booster vaccinations to protect against severe COVID-19 (hospitalisations and deaths) for groups who are at different levels of clinical risk. 

In its new advice, published on Wednesday, the government department said that since the first Covid-19 vaccine was authorised for use in the UK in December 2020, the aim of the UK’s vaccination programme “has been, and continues to be, the reduction of severe disease (hospitalisation and mortality) across the population, while protecting the NHS”.

It said the UK’s 2023 Covid-19 vaccination programme was in the process of being considered “as the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery”.

Reports from the UK have stated that officials are now urging those under 50 to get one last vaccine dose before the programme is axed. However, the offer of a booster jab will be rescinded within two weeks, as Britain’s universal Covid vaccine programme comes to an end after two years and billions of pounds spent. 

In Ireland, Covid booster shots have been available since October 2022. The HSE this month urged people to avail of their booster shot, amid low takeup from those aged 18 to 49.

It was revealed this month that up to 97 per cent of people in the 18-49 age group in Ireland have not had their second Covid-19 booster – a fourth Covid vaccine. Low levels of uptake means the national vaccination programme is “running far behind” the level of uptake anticipated. 31 per cent of people across all age groups have taken a second booster shot as of last week, while health authorities have said that figure should be closer to 75 per cent.

Figures provided this month by the HSE showed that just 71,000 people in this age range had come forward to avail of a second booster – which translates to just over 3 per cent of the estimated population in that age demographic. People aged 18 to 49 have been eligible to receive their second booster since 29 December 2022, on the condition that it has been six months since their last dose and since they last had Covid.

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