JCVI widens autumn COVID-19 booster and flu jab offer to all over-50s

More than 26m people in England will be offered a COVID-19 booster and a flu jab this autumn after government advisers widened eligible cohorts in the face of rising COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19 vaccine hub sign

All people aged 50 and over will now be offered a COVID-19 booster vaccination and a flu jab this autumn, the government confirmed.

Interim advice in May from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended an autumn booster campaign targeting cohorts 1-6 - residents and staff at care homes for older people, frontline health and social care workers, adults over 65 and people aged 16-64 in clinical risk groups should be offered a jab this autumn.

However, the committee has now widened the autumn programme along with the scope of the flu vaccination campaign to cover all over 50s and all at-risk patients and household contacts of those with immunosuppression from the age of five upwards.

COVID-19 booster jabs

JCVI cohorts 1-9 cover around 29m people in England and more than 30m UK-wide - but with the offer open only to patients who have received a previous dose at least three months before, around 26.1m in England are understood to be eligible.

The decision to expand the programme comes as rates of COVID-19 infections continue to surge across the UK. The latest Office for National Statistics COVID-19 infection survey shows that one in 19 people in England were infected in the week ending 6 July - rising to one in 17 in Wales and Northern Ireland and one in 16 in Scotland.

The JCVI said it had backed a wider campaign after considering 'the recent epidemiology of the BA.4 and BA.5 waves, as well as the benefits of aligning the COVID-19 programme with the flu vaccine rollout'. The committee says the expanded campaign will protect 'those at higher risk of severe illness and keep greater numbers of people out of hospital'.

BMA leaders criticised the late decision to expand the campaign, which comes the day after the deadline for GP practices to sign up to deliver booster jabs - and warned it could cause 'severe problems' for practices.

Vaccine campaign

Additional groups to be offered flu vaccination this year outside the usual at-risk and over-65 patients will include adults aged 50 to 64 years old and secondary school children in years 7, 8 and 9.

The NHS will announce in due course when and how eligible groups will be able to book an appointment for their COVID-19 autumn booster, and when people aged 50 to 64 years old who are not in a clinical risk group will be offered a flu jab.

JCVI deputy chair Professor Anthony Harnden said: 'We have provided our final recommendations for the autumn programme to ensure the NHS and wider health system has time to plan a vaccine rollout well ahead of the winter season.

'The COVID-19 boosters are highly effective at increasing immunity and, by offering a further dose to those at higher risk of severe illness this autumn, we hope to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalisations and deaths over the winter.'

Head of Immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Dr Mary Ramsay said: 'Widening the eligibility for the flu vaccine will help reduce the number of people getting seriously ill and ease pressures on the NHS, particularly during the busy winter period.

'It is also important that everyone eligible for the COVID-19 booster gets the jab when invited, including pregnant women, who are among those at higher risk. Having COVID-19 during pregnancy can lead to complications. Getting the vaccine, including a booster, offers the best possible protection for you and your baby.'

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