Final advice on the booster campaign from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on 14 September came ahead of government confirmation that the plans will go ahead.
Booster jabs will be offered to patients from as soon as next week potentially alongside flu vaccination, after the MHRA confirmed co-administration was safe.
Patients in the following groups will be included in the booster campaign:
- Those living in residential care homes for older adults,
- All adults aged 50 years or over,
- Frontline health and social care workers,
- All those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19,
- Adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.
The JCVI said booster jabs should be offered 'no earlier than six months after completion of the primary vaccine course, in the same order as during phase 1' of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
It said boosters could start from September because patients vaccinated in the first phase would have received their second dose 'approximately six months ago'.
In a statement to MPs, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid later confirmed the government had accepted the JCVI advice and said 'the NHS is preparing to offer booster doses from next week'.
The JCVI has advised 'a preference for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the booster programme, regardless of which vaccine brand someone received for their primary doses'.
It said the recommendation had been made on the basis of data from the COV-BOOST trial showing that the Pfizer jab is 'well tolerated as a third dose and provides a strong booster response'.
As an alternative, the JCVI has said a half dose of the Moderna vaccine can be offered, with the AstraZeneca vaccine to be offered as an alternative where patients including those with allergies are unable to receive an mRNA vaccine.
JCVI chair of COVID-19 immunisation Professor Wei Shen Lim said: 'The UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme has been hugely successful in protecting people against hospitalisation and death, and the main aim of the booster programme is to prolong that protection and reduce serious disease as we head towards the colder months.
'The JCVI is advising that a booster dose be offered to the more vulnerable, to maximise individual protection ahead of an unpredictable winter. Most of these people will also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and we strongly advise them to take up this offer as well.'
At a press conference, the JCVI COVID-19 immunisation lead said evidence studied by the committee showed a gradual decline in protection against the virus over time among vaccinated people, with the fastest decline seen in the oldest age groups and in patients with underlying conditions that leave them at higher risk.
MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine added that the regulator had found that 'giving the booster jabs with flu jabs at the same time is safe'.
A JCVI statement said: 'The ComFluCOV trial indicates that co-administration of the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines is generally well tolerated with no reduction in immune response to either vaccine. Therefore, the two vaccines may be co-administered where operationally practical.'
The committee said advice on a booster vaccination for younger adults would be considered at a later stage since most people in this age group have only recently been offered a second dose of vaccine.