So what has happened to the promised booster rollout?
It was announced this week that ‘third doses’ – technically not boosters – are to be offered to 500,000 people with severely suppressed immune systems, such as patients with HIV, or those on medication including chemotherapy.
It is because two doses are not enough to generate a strong antibody response.
Why are these different from booster jabs?
Third doses are part of the ‘primary immunisation schedule’ for the severely immunocompromised, given from eight weeks after the second dose.
In contrast, booster jabs are designed to extend waning protection in people who have successfully generated antibodies after two doses, and are given several months after jab two.
So why haven’t boosters been approved yet?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is waiting for more trial data from UK studies. They have not decided who needs a booster or whether people should get ‘mix and match’ doses – say a Pfizer shot after two intial AstraZeneca jabs.
Wasn’t the rollout supposed to start next week?
Yes, the NHS was hoping to begin the programme on Monday. Ministers still hope to start the programme this month to address fears over declining immunity.
What do we know about declining Covid immunity?
Research suggests immunity begins to decline about five to six months after vaccination or infection, falling faster in the elderly. Data shows the proportion of elderly Britons with antibodies has dropped since May.
So are boosters necessary?
Scientists are divided over whether healthy adults need boosters. But most agree that those with the weakest immune systems –including the elderly and people with other health conditions – will certainly benefit from a top-up dose at some point.
How will a booster programme work?
The NHS has made plans to offer boosters to up to 32million people, including all over-50s, from Monday. These would be delivered at existing vaccine centres, and patients could also get the flu jab at the same time – one shot in each arm.
What is happening in other countries?
Many European nations, including France, are offering boosters to the elderly and vulnerable. Israel, the US and Hungary are giving all adults a third dose.
But the JCVI believes the UK is in a unique situation because it adopted a eight to 12-week gap between the first two doses, rather than four weeks. They think this means Britons have better immunity than other nations.