The NHS in England is starting to plan a coronavirus booster jab programme from September for millions of people most vulnerable to the virus.
In a letter to senior leaders, GPs and hospital bosses, NHS England said health systems should prepare to deliver booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine between September 6 and December 17 as “quickly and safely as possible”.
It comes after experts advising the Government published new interim guidance setting out the priority list for who should get a third jab if a booster programme is needed.
The priority groups in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) interim guidance cover around 32 million people including over-70s, health and care workers, older care home residents, the clinically extremely vulnerable and people who are immunocompromised.
Final guidance from the JCVI will be set out before September.
The NHS letter, dated Thursday, said results from a number of clinical trials are expected over the summer so plans will need to “flex as new information becomes available”.
It added: “Therefore, the core planning scenario systems should prepare for is to deliver booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the individuals outlined in the JCVI interim guidance above between September 6 and December 17 2021 (15 weeks), as quickly and safely as possible in two stages using supply available to us over that period.”
The letter, signed by the senior responsible officer for vaccine deployment, Emily Lawson, primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani and NHS strategic incident director Professor Keith Willett, has been sent to hospital bosses, GP practices, vaccination sites, community pharmacies and council chiefs.
It says that where possible people should get their coronavirus booster and flu jab – as well as other health checks such as blood pressure – at one appointment.
It added: “Alongside this (booster programme), local systems will need to deliver existing requirements for the flu programme (co-administered in a single appointment where supply and eligibility of cohorts align), continue to deliver routine vaccination programmes for children and for adults, maintain an ‘evergreen’ offer to all adults who have not yet taken up the earlier offer of a first dose of Covid vaccination, and complete any second doses not yet delivered.
“We are working with systems to pilot a ‘make every contact count’ approach to winter vaccination.
“This means building in the offer – where practical and appropriate – for those attending vaccination clinics to also have other health checks, such as blood pressure or atrial fibrillation checks.”
The letter also said: “Co-administering flu and Covid-19 vaccines in the same appointment will allow more efficient use of resources and a better service for patients, as well as potentially helping to improve uptake of both vaccines.
“This will only be possible once the final results of the relevant clinical trials are published (expected later this summer), and where supply, regulation and alignment of cohorts allows, particularly in primary care.
“If the ongoing clinical study finds that co-administration is safe and effective, we intend to optimise for full co-administration of flu and Covid-19 vaccines in trusts, residential care homes, to housebound patients and in other residential settings.”
The JCVI interim guidance sets out two stages for the Covid-19 booster programme:
– The first stage will see 15 million of the most vulnerable people across the UK offered a booster including over-70s, health and care workers, older care home residents, the clinically extremely vulnerable (those who were asked to shield previously), and people who are immunocompromised.
– The second stage will extend to a further 17 million people including over-50s, adults over the age of 16 who usually are offered a free NHS flu jab, those aged 16-49 in a Covid at-risk group, and people who are in regular contact with someone who is immunocompromised.
The plans have been drawn up to ensure the NHS is prepared for any possible booster jab campaign while officials await more data on whether a third vaccine is required to bolster protection over the winter months.
It will coincide with the rollout of flu jabs, which health officials have said will be vital this winter as they prepare for a potentially difficult influenza season.
Officials have stressed that a third vaccine may not be needed but scientific advisers to the Government have said they are “taking no chances” and want to give the health service as much time as possible to plan.