Sajid Javid ‘confident’ Covid vaccine booster scheme will start in September

The health secretary said: “I couldn’t tell you exactly when because before we start it, as people would expect, we need to get the final advice from our group of experts, our independent scientific and medical advisers, the JCVI.”

Health secretary Sajid Javid said he is “confident” a Covid-19 jab booster campaign can start next month, despite a report that experts want more time to consider whether they are needed.

NHS plans are in place to roll out third doses of the vaccine from 6 September for people who might “really need” another jab – but no official decision has been taken yet.

“We are going to have a booster scheme, it will start sometime in September,” Mr Javid told reporters on a visit to open a hospital in Carlisle on Thursday.

He added: “We’re waiting for their final opinion and, looking at everything and the timing of that, I’m confident that we can start in September when we will start with the most vulnerable cohorts and start offering that third jab.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) met on Thursday, and had been expected to discuss the potential for boosters for vulnerable people who might need another jab.

But The Guardian reported an unnamed source saying planning for boosters did not mean it would definitely happen this autumn. “This is going to take more time and research. What we don’t want to do is make promises which then disappoint people,” said the source.

Committee member Professor Adam Finn said a decision would be made soon and that those who are “very unlikely to be well protected by those first two doses” will need a third one.

Asked about a booster campaign, Prof Finn told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the committee will be “imminently deciding that there will be some people who will need a third dose”.

The JCVI expert added: “But I think we do need more evidence before we can make a firm decision on a much broader booster programme.”

His comments on a wider rollout were echoed by another government adviser, Professor Peter Openshaw, who said further evidence is needed on any benefits that a third dose might bring – with trial results on booster jabs expected soon.

Campaigners have urged the government to bring forward booster jabs for the clinically extremely vulnerable as soon as possible.

Helen Rowntree, the head of research at Blood Cancer UK, said: “If this research shows a third dose does improve immune responses in people with blood cancer, it is vital that the government then rolls out booster jabs to this group with urgency.”

Prof Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which advises the government, also said high case numbers are still “very worrying” and warned that “we just don’t really know what’s going to happen” as winter approaches.

The Nervtag expert told Times Radio on Thursday: “I think we’re all really anxious about what’s going to happen once we return to normality.”

A further 113 people had died after testing positive for Covid-19, and there were a further 36,572 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in the UK, the government said on Thursday.

Prof Openshaw said he believes the government would be “loath” to bring back restrictions for winter, and said the issue is one of “increasing political polarisation” over the wearing of masks.

The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England has risen, after a two-week period that had seen figures fall. The latest test and trace statistics showed 190,508 people tested positive at least once in the week to 11 August – up 6 per cent on the previous week.

It comes as preliminary research suggests two doses of the Pfizer vaccine appears to have greater effectiveness initially against new Covid infections associated with the Delta variant when compared with the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab – but its efficacy also declines faster.

The findings, which have not yet been peer reviewed, also suggest that those infected with the Delta variant after their second jab had similar peak levels of virus to unvaccinated people.

Meanwhile, Prof Finn said it is “hard to predict” whether the general rollout of first and second doses will be extended to 12- to 15-year-olds in the UK.

He said that because children rarely become seriously ill with the virus, it could be “a very marginal decision that they will benefit by being immunised”.

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