A wider Covid-19 vaccination booster campaign for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is still in play even though it is due to start in less than four weeks – writes Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent .
Experts said they are still evaluating the data before confirming whether all over 50s and clinically vulnerable people will need a third jab.
They confirmed that a booster will “very likely” be needed for a small number of people with compromised immune systems.
About 30 million people are expected to receive a third Covid-19 vaccine in addition to a flu vaccine, with the program scheduled to start on September 6.
But the expert group that advises Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – the Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization (JCVI) – is still evaluating hospital admission data and test samples blood before approving the program.
On Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said preparations for the recall campaign were underway but ministers were awaiting advice from clinical experts.
It has been reported that ministers are already planning a 2022 recall campaign after obtaining 32 million doses of Pfizer for the fall of next year.
The Times reported that the doses cost £ 1 billion.
The Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) said, “We have gained access to over 500 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine and are confident that our supply will support potential recall programs at the to come up.”
Pfizer said in a statement: “We are unable to comment on the details of a supply agreement with the UK. In all government agreements, Pfizer and BioNTech use a tiered pricing formula, based on factors such as volume and delivery dates, which ensures that the agreements are tailored to the needs of each immunization program we support. “
Asked about a recall campaign for this year, Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, who sits at JCVI, told BBC Breakfast: ‘We have been asked to say who might receive a recall if this happens. was necessary. give boosters.
“I think it’s becoming fairly clear that there is a small group of people whose immune responses to the first two doses are likely to be inadequate – people who have immunosuppression of one type or another, may -being because they have an immunodeficiency or I had treatment for cancer, bone marrow or organ transplants, that sort of thing.
“I think it’s highly likely that we will recommend a third dose for some of these groups.
“A larger booster program is still uncertain – we have made potential plans so that the logistics for this can be put in place, alongside the influenza vaccination program.
“We need to look at the evidence to find out whether people who get vaccines at the start of the program are at serious risk of serious illness and whether the protection they get from those first two doses is still strong. We clearly don’t want to give vaccines to people who don’t need them. “
He said it was difficult to say when the JCVI would have more data on the need for a larger recall campaign, but experts would be looking at hospital admissions and blood tests.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told Times Radio: “For a vulnerable person with suboptimal immunity, any boost is better than nothing, and there is some evidence that shows enough promise to bring back people in this protection zone. “
On Tuesday, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Coronavirus that any decrease in the protection provided by vaccines would be “gradual” and would be detected quickly by the systems of British surveillance, adding: “There is no reason to panic at this time.
Sir Andrew also suggested that the concept of herd immunity was “not a possibility” due to the more transmissible Delta variant of the virus.
He called the idea “mythical” and warned that a vaccination program should not be built around the idea of achieving it.
“We know very clearly with the coronavirus that this current variant, the Delta variant, will still infect people who have been vaccinated and that means anyone who is still not vaccinated, at some point, will encounter the virus,” he said. he declared to parliamentarians.
A government science adviser said Covid-19 was unlikely to be eradicated, but the “nature of the virus” meant it would become a seasonal infection.
Professor Andrew Hayward, of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College London and the Advisory Group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that Covid would likely continue to mutate, which means that true herd immunity is unlikely.
He said: “I think the nature of this infection and the nature of the vaccines are such that the level of immunity achieved is not sufficient to consider this.
“If someone could come up with a vaccine that not only protects 95% against serious disease, but 95% against infection, then yes, we would have a chance to eradicate it.
“I think that’s a pretty distant prospect and we have to get used to the concept that it will become what we call an endemic disease rather than a pandemic disease.
“A disease that accompanies us all the time – probably spreads seasonally much like the flu where we see winter epidemics. “
Professor Altmann said new variants could mean vaccine immunity may never completely defeat the virus.
When asked if the coronavirus might ‘die’ once enough people have antibodies from getting the virus or from the vaccination, he replied, ‘It’s still somewhat true.
“More vaccination means more people with antibodies means fewer susceptible people, which means fewer lungs for the virus, which means less pandemic.
“So not everything came out the window. But no one said this virus has to be simple.
“There is Delta right now, there may well be more worse ones to come, and they are impacting the effectiveness of vaccines and changing their calculations.”
He added: “Experts are very divided and very bad at observing a crystal ball in the long run, but the simple answer is we always win – it’s more complex than we thought, it’s a work in progress. but we are still winning and the strategy is still working.
He was speaking after the DHSC said three in four adults had received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
A total of 86,780,455 doses were administered in the UK, with 47,091,889 people receiving a first dose (89%) and 39,688,566 receiving both doses (75%), the department said.