The Prime Minister declared ‘we’re going ahead with’ booster jabs for older Brits, despite scientists not having announced them yet – and appeared to suggest they are his priority over Covid vaccines for children aged 12 to 15
Boris Johnson has declared his “priority” is to start rolling out Covid booster jabs to the “older generation” of Brits.
The Prime Minister appeared to indicate an announcement could finally be near on a booster rollout – declaring “we’re going ahead” with it.
That is despite the fact a booster rollout has still not been signed off by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
He also appeared to suggest booster jabs will be his “priority” compared to first doses for all children aged 12 to 15, which are also snarled up in the JCVI process.
Asked if he wanted the experts to “hurry up a bit” with jabs for over-12s, and boosters for older people, the Prime Minister replied: “I think you’re absolutely right that the priorities now are the older generation going into Autumn and Winter.
“We’ve always said there will be a booster programme in September, this month, and we’re going ahead with that.
“What I would also say is 16, 17-year-olds are eligible, they’ve been approved, they’re a very important group for potential transmission and I would urge all 16, 17-year-olds… to get your jab.
“Yes, 88% of everybody over 16 in this country has had a jab, 78% have had two jabs, it’s a huge huge success for the programme but there are still some who need that protection and I just urge everybody who hasn’t yet had one, go get that.”
It comes after officials announced around 500,000 Brits with compromised immune systems will get a third dose of the vaccine. But the third doses are not a “booster” rollout, on which the JCVI is yet to decide.
Pressure is mounting on the experts to make a decision on boosters and vaccines for children aged 12 to 15, as currently only vulnerable youngsters can get jabbed.
NHS England had been told to prepare for a booster rollout from September 6. And officials were told to plan for a rollout to all 12-15s from mid September, giving the vaccines in schools with parental consent.
But both of these rollouts will only begin if the JCVI, which is combing through complex data, gives the go-ahead.
Gavin Williamson today ramped up pressure on the JCVI to green light the vaccine as millions of children return to school.
The Education Secretary told the BBC: “I think parents would find it deeply reassuring to have a choice of whether their children should have a vaccine or not.
“We obviously wait for the decision of JCVI. Probably a lot of us are very keen to hear that and very much hope that we’re in a position of being able to roll out vaccinations for those who are under the age of 16.
“I would certainly be hoping that it is a decision that will be made very, very soon.”
He said he could not give a timeline for when the decision is expected as the JCVI is an independent body. “They will reach a decision, I’m told and I understand, very, very soon,” he said.
Deputy JCVI chairman Professor Anthony Harnden said the idea was “under a lot of active consideration”.
He added: “There’s many, many arguments for and against giving vaccines to 12 to 15-year-olds, and we’re deliberating on what we think as a committee is best for children.
Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which advises the Government, said he would “applaud” the JCVI for being so “meticulous” in waiting for studies before advising on boosters.
But he added: “If we wait for everything to report before making a judgment, we may well be past the time when we should have been making a decision.”
However, Prof Saul Faust, director of the National Institute for Health Research Southampton clinical research facility and lead investigator for the Cov-Boost trial, said he understands the JCVI’s “wish and need to gather more evidence” before giving advice.
“I think they’re not being at all hesitant. They’re simply saying they would like to assess more data, and they want to be sure that the benefit to children is significant, not just the benefit to society.”
Ministers, headteachers and parents are all concerned about the prospect of a big spike in Covid infections as pupils go back after the summer holidays.
A “significant surge” in cases is expected in the UK but it is too early to say whether that might mean the relaxation of restrictions needs to be rolled back, leading expert Prof Neil Ferguson said.
He warned that if daily cases start going above 100,000 to 150,000 there will be “significant demands on the health system”.
All 16- and 17-year-olds are being offered a vaccine but under 16s only qualify if they are in certain groups – such as the clinically vulnerable or those who live with adults who are at risk of serious illness.
Almost two-thirds of 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales have had a first dose while NHS England said more than 620,000 of that age group have now been jabbed, less than a month after becoming eligible.