A government vaccine adviser has said cutting the interval between a second dose of a Covid jab and a booster shot will be considered, but insisted data points to a six-month wait as the “sweet spot”.
It comes after the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt urged the government to look at reducing the wait to protect more people over the winter amid intense criticism from Labour for the “stalling” booster scheme as cases exceeded 50,000.
Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the delay between jabs was “something we will need to consider” as reports suggested it was being discussed by ministers and experts.
Under current government guidance – issued in September – those aged over 50 and vulnerable groups who were double jabbed six months ago are now eligible for a booster dose.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Boris Johnson said the period between doses was an “extremely important point”, after Mr Hunt asked MPs: “Does it really matter, when it’s only nine weeks till the Christmas holidays, if someone has a booster jab after five months?”
Asked about cutting the wait, professor Harnden told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, I think it’s something that could be considered, but I think the data showing is that six months is a sort of sweet spot.
“Whether it’s five months or whether it’s seven months isn’t so important, but I think what is important is that people get their booster dose.”
He stressed that individuals should book their booster appointment with the NHS if six months had elapsed since having a second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, adding: “If people get that booster dose they will get that extra bit of protection.”
He went on: “Whether it’s five months, six months, seven months – on JCVI we’ve advised six months because that’s what the data shows is the sweet spot – but as you know with the 12-week which was the appropriate gap for the second dose that was brought down to eight weeks when infection rates were high.”
Quizzed again on whether cutting the wait was something the JCVI was planning to look at, professor Harnden said: “Well I think it’s something we will need to consider in due course”.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the proposal is being discussed in Whitehall and would mean all over 65s could be offered a vaccine by early November, rather than early in December, but No 10 will wait for any change in advice from the JCVI.
At the beginning of the UK’s vaccine rollout, the JCVI originally recommended a 12-week wait between doses of both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs, but later changed the guidance, reducing the interval to eight weeks in May.
Pressed on reports that discussions were underway to cut the interval between a second dose and a booster shot, Gillian Keegan, a health and social care minister, stressed on Friday that any change in advice would depend on the experts at the JCVI.
“The JCVI look at all the data,”she said. “They’ve advised us six months. Of course they continually look at the data but they are the only people who can really answer this question.
“If they advise us, our job then would be to get ready to do whatever they say. But at the moment it is six months. It is not unknown, the JCVI have changes over periods of time and have reacted.”