JCVI sets out which vaccines to use for autumn COVID-19 boosters

The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) has said that Moderna's new COVID-19 bivalent vaccine, which provides protection against the original strain of the virus and the Omicron variant, should be used for the autumn booster campaign in adults.

The booster programme will begin in early September (Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images)

Following the announcement, the governments in England, Wales and Scotland said that the boosters would be rolled out from early September.

The MHRA approved the new Moderna vaccine for use in the UK on Monday. It said data from clinical trials showed that a booster with the vaccine triggered a strong immune response against both the original strain of the virus and the Omicron variant.

The vaccine also produced a 'good immune response' against Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, the MHRA said.

The JCVI said that ideally a single type of vaccine should be used for autumn boosters to make the roll out more straightforward. It said that if sufficient doses of a bivalent vaccine were available these should be used throughout the autumn programme, 'subject to operational considerations'.

Autumn COVID-19 boosters

The JCVI will consider other bivalent vaccines for use as boosters if they are approved by the MHRA in the coming weeks and months.

However, the committee said that vaccinating people promptly was more important than the type of vaccine used.

It said: 'Where substantial delays might be incurred in deploying a bivalent vaccine, the principle of timeliness should take priority and an alternative UK-approved booster vaccine offered.'

If the new Moderna jab or another bivalent vaccine is not available, then the original Moderna jab or the Pfizer vaccine should be used, the JCVI said.

The committee recommended that the Pfizer vaccine is used for those aged 12 to 17 who are covered by the programme and the Pfizer paediatric vaccine for those aged 5 to 11.

In exceptional circumstances the Novovax vaccine could also be used in over 18s, the JCVI said. The Novovax vaccine was approved for use by the MHRA in February this year, but so far it has not been used as part of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Protecting those at risk

The main aim of the autumn programme is to boost immunity in those at risk of severe COVID-19 ahead of the winter. The JCVI said it had reviewed data on the use of bivalent vaccines and found that neutralising antibody levels against Omicron were 'marginally higher' after vaccination with a bivalent jab than after vaccination with one of the original mRNA vaccines.

However it said modelling suggested that 'there may only be a small additional benefit in terms of the number of hospitalisations prevented' in those over 65 by using a variant vaccine than an original mRNA jab. Any such advantage would be lost if there was a delay in rolling out the boosters to facilitate using a bivalent vaccine, the committee added.

Last month the JCVI recommended widening the COVID-19 autumn booster campaign to include all adults over the age of 50.  It is thought that around 26.1m people in England will be eligible for the jab. 

The programme will cover:

  • residents and staff in care homes for older people
  • all individuals aged over 50
  • frontline health and care workers
  • those in at-risk groups aged 5-49, which includes pregnant women
  • those aged 5-49 who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression
  • those aged 16-49 who are carers.

Vaccine roll out

The government said that NHS England will set out details on when people can access the jabs 'in due course'. However, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said that the NHS would begin to contact eligible people from 'early September'.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of COVID-19 immunisation on the JCVI, said: 'All of the available booster vaccines offer very good protection against severe illness from COVID-19. As more vaccines continue to be developed and approved, the JCVI will consider the benefits of including them in the UK programme.

'It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn, whichever vaccine is on offer. This will increase your protection against being severely ill from COVID-19 as we move into winter.'

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