PFIZER and AstraZeneca’s Covid jabs are safe to use as booster shots, the UK’s medicines watchdog has said today.
It means a programme for extra vaccines could be rolled out as soon as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) gives the go-ahead.
Members of the JCVI are meeting today, with a decision on who should get a third booster shot expected in the coming days.
The JCVI is still mulling over the latest data from the Cov-Boost trial run by the University Hospital Southampton.
But with cases still high and fears of a winter deluge of flu cases, the experts have been pressed to make a decision soon.
The £19.3 million UK clinical trial has been testing the Pfizer jab alongside those from AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Janssen from Johnson & Johnson, Valneva and CureVac.
The new MHRA guidance says Pfizer boosters can be given to anyone, regardless of which doses they had previously.
But only people who already had the AstraZeneca vaccine can get another dose as a booster.
Dr June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said: “We are committed to getting safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to the UK public.
“This means ensuring that existing Covid-19 vaccines can continue to be used in the most effective way possible.
“We know that a person’s immunity may decline over time after their first vaccine course.
“I am pleased to confirm that the Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca can be used as safe and effective booster doses.
“This is an important regulatory change as it gives further options for the vaccination programme, which has saved thousands of lives so far.
“It will now be for the JVCI to advise on whether booster jabs will be given and if so, which vaccines should be used.
“We have in place a comprehensive safety surveillance strategy for monitoring the safety of all UK-approved Covid-19 vaccines and this surveillance will include booster jabs.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We continue to prepare for an autumn booster programme to ensure those most vulnerable to Covid-19 have protection extended ahead of winter and against new variants.
“Any booster programme, including which vaccines might be recommended for use, will be based the final advice of the independent JCVI.”
Some have warned rushing into booster jabs before they’re absolutely essential could leave people vulnerable to new variants.
AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot also warned such an extra rollout would “add unnecessary burden on the NHS over the long winter months”.
Meanwhile, the JCVI refused to give its backing to vaccinating healthy 12-15 year olds on health grounds alone.
It said youngsters are at such a low risk from the virus that jabs would offer only a marginal benefit.
But it referred the decision up to Prof Chris Whitty and his fellow chief medical officers for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Last week we told how frustrated ministers have urged scientists to get on with vaccines for teens and booster jabs for the over 50s.
The UK has slipped from second to 19th for percentage jabbed.
By late March we were second to Israel in the global league table, with 41 per cent of the population already vaccinated — a rate almost four times that of France.
Last week Health Secretary Sajid Javid indicated his willingness to back the calls to start jabbing teens, saying offering all of them a Covid jab would “solidify protection”.
Schools and the NHS are ready to give jabs with a sense of urgency, he stressed.