Major change to Covid and flu vaccine program as jabs for under-65s are scrapped in efforts to ‘get back to normal’
Covid and flu vaccines will only be offered to those over 65 this winter, health chiefs confirmed today.
In an effort to “get back to normal,” invitations are not being handed out to millions of 50-64 year olds who were eligible during the pandemic.
Health chiefs are also gearing up for the immunization campaign that will begin in October, a full month later than usual.
It is hoped that delaying the start of the rollout will protect people the most in December and January, when both viruses are expected to peak.
Scientists fear both viruses could cause carnage in an already struggling NHS this winter.
UKHSA analysts estimate Covid positivity rates rose to 5.4 per cent with 17 confirmed outbreaks in the previous week, which itself saw a 3.7 per cent rise. Leading experts fear the outbreak will continue to gain momentum in the coming weeks as part of the virus’s natural cycle
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed that people over 65 will be eligible for the vaccine from September 1
It comes as Covid cases and hospital admissions rise across Britain, with a new variant taking off.
However, experts say Eris, or EG.5.1, shows no signs of being any more dangerous than the other strains in circulation, including its ancestor Omicron.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), which guides ministers in rolling out injections, today published an opinion outlining who is eligible for a Covid booster.
In addition to people over 65, younger people in a clinical risk group, NHS staff, social workers and residents of care homes for the elderly will be offered a shot.
Those ages 12 to 64 who live with someone who is immunocompromised, such as cancer and transplant patients, are also eligible.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of Covid Immunization at the JCVI, said: ‘The autumn booster program will continue to target those most at risk of becoming seriously ill. These individuals benefit most from a booster vaccination.
“It’s important that everyone who qualifies picks up a booster this fall, to prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the virus during the winter months.”
Dr. Mary Ramsay, director of public health programs at the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘The Covid virus has not gone away and we expect it to circulate more widely in the winter months, with the number of people falling ill increasing.
“The booster is being offered to people at higher risk of serious illness and by starting the booster vaccine this fall you will increase your protection for the winter, when respiratory viruses are typically at their peak.”
The JCVI said booster shots – which are most effective during the first three months – should be distributed in early December to “maximize the potential benefits of the program.”
The scheme expired in February last year. Data showed that those who had an injection were about 53 percent less likely to be hospitalized with Covid in the two to four weeks after being stung.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘I have now accepted the advice of the Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunization to be considered for the fall 2023 booster program, to protect the most vulnerable from Covid.
NHS England will soon confirm details of how and when eligible people can access the autumn booster vaccine, and I would urge anyone who has been invited – including those who are yet to receive their first shot – to apply as soon as possible .’
Under plans first revealed in May, the same groups could receive a flu vaccine, along with pregnant women, children aged two or three and elementary school students. Health chiefs are considering extending the scheme to high school students.
Eligible Brits are expected to be offered both their Covid booster and flu shot during the same appointment, with an injection in each arm where possible, as in previous years.
People who don’t qualify cannot buy coronavirus shots privately, unlike flu.
A resource close to the jab drive tole The Telegraph that the decision to scale back the flu rollout was an attempt to “get back to normal” after the pandemic.
But when the JCVI said in May it was bound by the government’s requirement that it consider the health benefits of jabbing 50- to 64-year-olds “on a cost-effectiveness basis.”
Leading experts fear the outbreak will continue to gain momentum in the coming weeks as part of the virus’s natural cycle. But officials say they are “closely” monitoring the spread of the virus. However, the UK no longer publishes daily infection figures due to so few tests being carried out after the pandemic
While there would be a “clear health benefit” in vaccinating low-risk adults this year, it is unclear whether this would meet “strict cost-effectiveness requirements,” it said.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘The NHS flu vaccination program will start in October based on the latest clinical evidence.
“It will maximize patient protection during the winter months, when it is typically colder and viruses spread faster as people spend more time indoors.
‘The NHS is working to ensure that a growing number of vaccine sites across England offer both flu and Covid vaccines during the same visit, to make it as easy as possible for people to get life-saving protection against both viruses before the winter.’
If officials stick to their plans, it means this year will be the smallest flu and Covid booster rollout since the start of the pandemic.
Health chiefs initially decided last year to limit the flu vaccine rollout to those over 65, despite warnings it was “reckless” and would leave millions unprotected.
But it turned around and offered the jab to all over 50s over fears of a Covid and flu ‘twindemia’ that could cripple healthcare.
Experts in Australia – where the flu season runs from April to September and typically predicts how it will unfold in the UK – have warned of record cases.
Doctors have expressed concern about the impact on children, with about half of cases occurring in children under 15. Young people also account for about eight out of ten hospital admissions.
The country is predicted to have a flu season similar to 2019 – the largest on record and more than 300,000 infections recorded.
Rather than a more contagious flu strain, experts have blamed low childhood vaccination rates on making them more vulnerable to the virus.