Britain edges closer to booster Covid vaccine programme as watchdog approves AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s jabs to be used for third doses
Britain’s medicines watchdog today approved the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs to be used as third doses, as the country edges closer to a booster programme.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that the two brands were ‘safe and effective’ when administered months after the two injections.
It now paves the way for the Government’s vaccine advisory panel – which is separate from the MHRA – to decide who should get boosters.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are meeting today to determine the scope of the programme and which jab should be used.
But mass booster rollout to 32million over-50s is not expected is not expected.
Professor Adam Finn, an expert in child health and JCVI member, expressed concern that a decision on booster jabs for the coronavirus would be made too quickly.
It’s s ‘not clear’ that the UK is seeing waning protection against severe disease and doses should be prioritised to those in other countries who haven’t had a single jab, he said.
The MHRA said the ‘important regulatory change’ gives the UK more options for the vaccination scheme, which has saved thousands of lives.
Until now, the AstraZeneca and Pfizer injections were only approved for two doses.
As it stands, booster jabs are only available to around half a million Britons with severely suppressed immune systems, such as those with leukemia, HIV and organ transplant patients.
The JCVI last week signed off plans to give these groups a third jab after concluding evidence suggests they did not mount a strong immune response to two doses.
Pfizer and Moderna injections are currently being used as boosters, even for people initially vaccinated with AstraZeneca.
The JCVI are today considering results of the Cov-Boost study by researchers at Southampton University to decide on the next move in the booster campaign.
The study examined how effective seven different Covid vaccines – including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Janssen – were when used as a third dose after wither two doses of Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
In interim advice published in June, the JCVI said boosters should be given to over-16s who are immunosuppressed or clinically extremely vulnerable, those living in care homes for older adults, over-70s and frontline health staff.
A second stage of the rollout should target all over-50s, those aged 16 to 49 that are at-risk from Covid or the flu and adults who live with immunosuppressed people, the JCVI said.
However, the JCVI cautioned that its final advice ‘may change substantially’ and its members have since spoken out against third jabs for entire age groups.
Some 48.3million over-16s in the UK have received one dose (89 per cent), while 43.6million have received two doses (80.3 per cent).
Dr June Raine, the MHRA’s chief executive said: ‘We are committed to getting safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to the UK public. This means ensuring that existing COVID-19 vaccines can continue to be used in the most effective way possible.
‘We know that a person’s immunity may decline over time after their first vaccine course.
‘I am pleased to confirm that the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca can be used as safe and effective booster doses.
‘This is an important regulatory change as it gives further options for the vaccination programme, which has saved thousands of lives so far.
‘It will now be for the JVCI to advise on whether booster jabs will be given and if so, which vaccines should be used.
‘We have in place a comprehensive safety surveillance strategy for monitoring the safety of all UK-approved COVID-19 vaccines and this surveillance will include booster jabs.’