The government has purchased a further 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as it starts preparations for a Covid-19 booster programme that will begin towards the end of this year.
Ahead of the winter months, when cases and transmission are expected to rise again, people will be revaccinated “based on clinical need” in a bid to further raise their immunity levels.
The booster programme is also being implemented to provide protection against new and emerging coronavirus variants, some of which are capable of blunting the effectiveness of the current generation of vaccines.
“Our vaccination programme is bringing back our freedom, but the biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant,” health secretary Matt Hancock said.
Research is ongoing to establish whether the Covid-19 jabs can be co-administered alongside the flu vaccine, which is rolled out to millions of people each winter.
The additional 60 million doses will be used alongside other approved Covid vaccines for the booster programme, the government said.
“We’re working on our plans for booster shots, which are the best way to keep us safe and free while we get this disease under control across the whole world,” Mr Hancock added.
Further details on the autumn programme will be published in due courage, the government said.
The final policy is to be informed by advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the results of clinical trials studying whether different vaccine doses can be ‘mixed and matched’.
Known as a heterologous prime-boost, this type of vaccination can only be administered with licensed jabs and involves using one dose each of two different types.
Due to possible future supply constraints, such an approach may need to be adopted by the UK – but only if the ongoing study, launched in February by researchers at Oxford University, proves to be safe and effective.
Overall, the UK has now secured 517 million doses, to be provided by eight different vaccine manufacturers.
The latest data show that a total of 47,540,984 million shots were administered between 8 December and 27 April. Just over a quarter of all adults in Britain have received both doses.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure the most vulnerable are protected from Covid-19 now and in the future,” said vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.
Vaccines manufactured by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna are already in use within the UK, though rolling reviews are underway by Britain’s medicines regulator to assess the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax jabs.
The impact of these vaccines was laid bare in new research published by Public Health England earlier on Wednesday, which showed that a single dose can cut transmission of the virus by up to half.
According to the PHE study, people who became infected with coronavirus three weeks after receiving one dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine were between 38 per cent to 49 per cent less likely to pass it on to household contacts, compared to those who were unvaccinated.
More to follow