The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced its advice regarding persons who will be eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccine in autumn 2023.
The Vaccine Plan
The UK COVID-19 vaccination programme is now entering its third autumn season. Vaccination helps to protect against severe illness, hospitalisations, and deaths from COVID-19. The advice for this autumn is to offer the vaccine to those at elevated risk of serious disease and who are therefore most likely to benefit from vaccination.
There are specific groups that the JCVI advises should be offered a COVID-19 booster vaccine, that include:
- Residents in a care home for older adults
- All adults aged 65 years and over
- Persons aged 6 months to 64 years in a clinical risk group, as mentioned in the Immunisation Green Book
- Frontline health and social care workers
- Persons aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts (as defined in the Green Book) of people with immunosuppression.
- Persons aged 16 to 64 years who are carers (as defined in the Green Book) and staff working in care homes for older adults.
This represents a change from last year as healthy under-65-year-olds will not be offered the vaccine, suggesting a lesser worry about COVID-19 this year, than previous years.
Last year’s autumn booster programme ended on the 20 February 2023. Data up to 12 March showed that 73.2% of people aged 65 to 70 years in England had been vaccinated and this increased in older cohorts rising to 83.7% (just under 2.5 million) in those aged over 80 years.
Data from last autumn’s programme showed that those who received a booster were around 53% less likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in the 2 to 4 weeks following vaccination, compared to those who did not receive a booster.
The Importance of COVID-19 Vaccines
“The autumn booster programme will continue to focus on those at greatest risk of getting seriously ill. These persons will benefit the most from a booster vaccination. It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn – helping to prevent them from hospitalisations and deaths arising from the virus over the winter months.”Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 immunisation on the JCVI
The JCVI believes that people at risk should get the vaccine, as a precautionary step to prevent the worsening of health amongst the most vulnerable.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Public Health Programmes at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said:
“The COVID-19 virus has not gone away, and we expect to see it circulating more widely over the winter months with the numbers of people getting ill increasing. The booster is being offered to those at higher risk of severe illness and by taking up the booster vaccine this autumn, you will increase your protection ahead of winter, when respiratory viruses are typically at their peak.”
To maximise protection over the winter months, JCVI advises that the autumn programme should aim to complete vaccinations by early December 2023 ahead of winter, so that protection is highest in the first 3 months following vaccination. This will help maximise the potential benefits of the programme, protecting people during the winter. At the same time, JCVI recognises some need for operational flexibility in relation to when these vaccines will be offered, taking into consideration factors such as vaccine supply.
From autumn 2023, JCVI additionally advises that primary course COVID-19 vaccination for persons who have not had any COVID-19 vaccines before should consist of a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Eligibility for primary course vaccination will be the same as for the autumn 2023 booster.
NHS England will confirm details on how and when eligible people can access the autumn booster vaccine in due course.
The advice of the JCVI to only offer the COVID-19 vaccines to those vulnerable, represents a change from last year, as healthy under-65-year-olds will not be offered the vaccine. COVID-19 seems to be a much lesser issue this year and is not at the forefront of the public’s mind.
These changes mark another step along the road of normalising COVID-19 with boosters being issued more like flu jabs than the emergency vaccination programmes of the past.