Ex-minister believes officials should follow Israel’s lead in widening recipient pool
The UK needs to “get on with” its Covid-19 booster vaccine programme and should offer the additional jabs “not just to the clinically vulnerable, but to everyone,” former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
He made the remarks in the wake of revelations on Wednesday that around half a million Britons aged 12 and over, who have severely weakened immune systems and are most at risk from Covid, would be offered a third dose of vaccine, following a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
However, Sajid Javid, the current health secretary, stressed that the announcement was separate to any decision on a booster programme, which is expected later this month.
Mr Hunt, who chairs the Commons health and social care committee, advised UK officials to follow Israel’s lead in widening the booster recipient pool to include more than just the clinically vulnerable.
He said the situation in the middle-eastern country, where the booster campaign that began in July with those aged over 60 has now been expanded to include anyone aged over 12, should be a “clear lesson for the UK”.
“I understand why there is an ethical debate about giving jabs to teenagers, but surely Israel shows we should not be hanging around in getting booster jabs out to adults,” the Conservative MP told The Times.
It echoed a lengthy Twitter thread Mr Hunt published last night in which he said “the third dose campaign is clearly working”.
Alongside a graphic of Israel’s Covid data, which claimed to show the significant impact booster jabs have had on the nation’s “severely ill hospitalised patients”, Mr Hunt wrote: “There was a big drop in rate of growth of severely ill patients two weeks after it started.”
He added: “The clear lesson for the UK seems to be…get on with booster jabs, not just for the clinically vulnerable but for everyone. The latest Zoe study showed vaccine effectiveness dropping after six months, so why are we hanging around?
“Hopefully Sajid Javid will have more to say on this in parliament next week.”
Asked about Mr Hunt’s comments on Thursday, Professor Anthony Harnden, the JCVI’s deputy chairman, said it was “highly likely” the UK would enforce a booster vaccine programme – but that careful consideration was going into the timing of a third dose.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the independent body would hand its advice to the government in the next few weeks.
“I think it’s highly likely that there will be a booster programme. It’s just the question of how we frame it. This will be decided over the next few weeks. I can’t definitively say that there will be because we have not made that decision yet, but it is highly likely,” he said.
Prof Harnden also said the JCVI was waiting for the results of a study looking at different vaccines as a booster dose, and was considering who would be eligible and when would be the best time for them to receive it.
“We need to look at all that data. What we don’t want to do is boost people and then find we have a new variant and we can’t boost them again because we’ve boosted them too soon and those people might not have needed the booster in the first place,” he told the morning programme.
The debate around booster jabs intensified this week after a new study, carried out by researchers at King’s College London (KCL), suggested having two vaccine doses almost halves the likelihood of long Covid in adults who get coronavirus.
Researchers at KCL also found that being admitted to hospital with the virus was 73 per cent less likely, and the chances of severe symptoms were reduced by almost a third in the fully vaccinated.
Dr Claire Steves, the study’s lead researcher, weighed in on the discussion and said the focus of the UK’s booster jab programme should be on identifying the “really-at-risk” groups.
The government’s announcement “that individuals who are immunocompromised are going to be given a sort of third primary injection … is the kind of thing that we need to be thinking about, identifying really-at-risk groups to make sure that they go in first,” she told the Today programme.