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Sources say only ‘a few hundred thousand’ of most vulnerable Brits will be eligible for third doses

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Only a few hundred thousand of the most vulnerable Britons will be given booster Covid vaccines next month, sources have told MailOnline.

The Government’s top advisers are expected to recommend third jabs for people with severely weakened immune systems this week or next. 

But they have no intention of launching a broader booster programme for all over-50s, and even healthy people over the age of 80 may have to wait for longer.

Experts are yet to confirm the details of the autumn rollout, which is due to start on September 6 and deviate from the original vaccination priority list last winter.

A source close to the discussions told MailOnline: ‘We’re only talking about a few hundred thousand people in the first phase.’ 

There are 3.7million people across the UK who are classified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’, with diseases such as cancer, vasculitis and organ transplant patients. Half a million are thought to be immunosuppressed.

The source added: ‘I’d be surprised if it was more than a fifth of that [3.7m] during the first round. I wouldn’t expect all of the extremely vulnerable to be offered a vaccine this autumn because they won’t need it. 

‘In practice, evidence suggests some of those groups make a much better immune response [after vaccination] than others.’ 

As for whether healthy elderly people — who were previously prioritised for a jab — will be eligible for boosters, they added: ‘That is still a matter of debate within the JCVI.’

The group has not ruled out opting for a wider approach to boosters if evidence accumulates and shows that they are needed.

Scientists lined up today to call for a broader booster programme after two studies last night suggested even double-vaccinated Britons could be at risk this winter.

The Octave research showed two doses of vaccine do not work as well in up to 40 per cent of those who are immunosuppressed while the ZOE Symptom Tracking study found immunity against infection in healthy people falls by more than 10 per cent after six months of the second injection.

Britain’s daily Covid infections, deaths and hospital admissions have been climbing slowly but steadily for several weeks, raising alarms over a fresh wave when schools return and strengthening the argument for boosters.

But Professor Adam Finn, one of the Government’s scientific advisers on vaccines, said the jabs are still offering very high levels of protection against serious illness in most people, which is why Covid deaths are still a fraction of the level in previous waves.

During a Radio 4 interview this morning, he suggested this morning the Joint Commitee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will stop short of recommending them for healthy elderly adults until more evidence of the benefit surfaces. 

A study by the Universities of Glasgow and Birmingham published yesterday measured antibody levels in 600 immunosuppressed people and compared them to healthy volunteers. About one in 10 in the vulnerable group failed to generate any detectable Covid antibodies four weeks after their second dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca. A further 30 per cent generated a significantly lower antibody response than healthy people, according to the study published as a pre-print in The Lancet

A study by the Universities of Glasgow and Birmingham published yesterday measured antibody levels in 600 immunosuppressed people and compared them to healthy volunteers. About one in 10 in the vulnerable group failed to generate any detectable Covid antibodies four weeks after their second dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca. A further 30 per cent generated a significantly lower antibody response than healthy people, according to the study published as a pre-print in The Lancet

In a separate study published today, scientists at King's College London monitored break-through Covid infections in 1.2million people who had received two doses of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine. They found that immunity wanes over time. For the Pfizer jab (blue line) it dropped from 88 per cent protection against infection to 74 per cent up to six months after the second dose. And for the AstraZeneca jab (pink line) it dropped from 77 per cent to 67 per cent five months after the second dose. Experts suggested the effectiveness could drop to 50 per cent by the winter

In a separate study published today, scientists at King’s College London monitored break-through Covid infections in 1.2million people who had received two doses of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine. They found that immunity wanes over time. For the Pfizer jab (blue line) it dropped from 88 per cent protection against infection to 74 per cent up to six months after the second dose. And for the AstraZeneca jab (pink line) it dropped from 77 per cent to 67 per cent five months after the second dose. Experts suggested the effectiveness could drop to 50 per cent by the winter

Above is a graph from the paper by King's College London scientists and experts at the health data science company ZOE. It showed protection against infection declined over time for both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. Experts said this was to be expected, but it is not clear whether this puts people at higher risk of serious disease, hospitalisation and death

Above is a graph from the paper by King’s College London scientists and experts at the health data science company ZOE. It showed protection against infection declined over time for both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. Experts said this was to be expected, but it is not clear whether this puts people at higher risk of serious disease, hospitalisation and death

The JCVI will make its decision about who should be included in the initial phase of the booster programme in the coming weeks. 

Earlier in the summer, the Government drew up plans for the NHS to re-vaccinate 32million people from September 6.

Calls have been mounting for a booster rollout after Israel suffered an unprecedented fourth wave — despite being one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world. 

Covid vaccines are still offering protection against serious illness for vast majority, JCVI boss says

The Covid vaccines are still offering protection against serious illness, hospitalisation and death, a top scientist has said.

A major UK study suggested today that protection against infection in the double-vaccinated wanes just six months after the second dose.

But a Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) boss has said there is still no evidence that this leads to more hospitalisations and deaths.

Professor Adam Finn said: ‘I think the… study, and a couple of other studies we recently had, do show the beginnings of a drop off of protection against asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic disease.

‘But other studies are showing maintenance of good protection against serious illness and hospitalisation.

‘So that’s encouraging actually that people who’ve had two doses are still very much well protected against serious illness, which is our main objective.

‘But we do need to watch out very carefully to see if this waning begins to translate into occurrence of more severe cases because then boosters will be needed.’

Studies have suggested that while Covid vaccines drastically slash the risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus, they are less effective at stopping infections.

Scientists have always been upfront about this, and said that no jab will be able to block infection in every case. 

Pressure grew last night after the Octave study showed two doses of vaccine do not work as well in 40 per cent of those who are immunosuppressed.

More than 2,500 people in the UK signed up to the Octave research, with illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, leukaemia and kidney disease.

Preliminary findings from 600 participants found 40 per cent of the vulnerable produced fewer antibodies to fight off Covid than healthy people. The figure includes 11 per cent who produced no antibodies at all.

A separate study, by King’s College London, found two Covid vaccine doses become noticeably less effective at stopping infections within six months.

Researchers warned Britons given the jabs first in winter — including the elderly — could see protection plummet to just 50 per cent by winter without boosters.

The real-world study analysed PCR results from more than a million people who had been fully vaccinated to look for ‘breakthrough’ infections.

It found that protection against infection after two shots of Pfizer decreased from 88 per cent at one month to 74 per cent at five to six months. For AstraZeneca, effectiveness dropped from 77 per cent to 67 per cent at four to five months.

On the back of the findings, Professor Tim Spector, the lead scientist behind the study, urged Britain to ‘urgently’ get its act together on booster vaccines.  

But Professor Finn told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think the Zoe study [King’s College London] and actually, a couple of other studies we recently had, do show the beginnings of a drop off of protection against asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic disease.

‘But other studies are showing maintenance of good protection against serious illness and hospitalisation.

‘So that’s encouraging actually that people who’ve had two doses are still very much well protected against serious illness, which is our main objective.

‘But we do need to watch out very carefully to see if this waning begins to translate into occurrence of more severe cases because then boosters will be needed.’

He suggested that as evidence accumulated it might be that the elderly need a booster shot.

‘I mean they are both the people who received vaccines earliest, and probably the people whose immunity is most likely to wane.

‘So, as evidence accumulates we may well find ourselves moving in that direction as well.’

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, told MailOnline that the JCVI ‘will need to make a decision soon’ on whether to roll out the Covid booster shots.

He said: ‘If the JCVI are going to meet the Government’s interim plan for the rollout of vaccine boosters, they don’t have much longer to wait for data and will need to make a decision soon. 

‘I would hope that the Government has everything more-or-less in place and could “press go” to get the programme up and running pretty quickly.’

He added: ‘Any dithering if the glowing embers of Covid do burst into flames could lead to needless hospitalisations and fatalities.’ 

Meanwhile, Israel’s Covid R rate has fallen below one among the over-60s just three weeks after booster shots were dished, in the clearest sign yet that the programme is working.

Health Ministry officials there say the R rate — which signals how fast the virus is spreading — has dropped below the crucial level, suggesting the outbreak is now shrinking in that age group.

Israel became the first country in the world to start rolling out booster shots to over-60s last month — and more than half have already got their third dose.

The country has now expanded the programme to over-30s, after previously making all over-40s, teachers and frontline medics and carers eligible.

Israeli Government adviser and data scientist Professor Eran Segal said infection rates in over-60s are still ‘very high’ but that the ‘increase in the rate of infections… has diminished’.

‘This is likely due to the third booster shots,’ he said, ‘an uptick in people taking the first dose and the high number of people infected per week who now have natural immunity.’

But Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist and former JCVI member, told MailOnline there was reason to be optimistic that Britain would fare better than Israel has.

‘They had a short interval between the first and second doses, whereas the longer interval adopted in the UK gave a much stronger level of immunity in the first place.’

Israel, which has relied solely on the Pfizer jab, went with the recommended three-week gap between first and second doses. But Britain decided to widen this to 12 weeks, which studies later showed boosted immunity further. 

Professor Dingwall added: ‘Because we got more immunity we would expect it to wane more slowly. The JCVI is made up of very experienced scientists and clinicians who are used to operating under public pressure and used to being lobbied about vaccinations.

‘It is absolutely committed to basing decisions on best available science and protecting the public.’

Interim advice from the JCVI suggested the booster programme would be carried out in two stages, with the immunocompromised and all over-70s being called for third doses in September.

Once this group had been inoculated they said the programme could then be expanded to the over-50s and those who live with adults vulnerable to Covid.

A flu inoculation programme was set to be run alongside the booster programme, amid warnings Britain faces a particularly bad flu season this year because of a lack of natural immunity on the back of lockdowns.   

Israel’s R rate falls below one in over-60s just three weeks after booster programme began

Israel’s Covid R rate has fallen below one among the over-60s just three weeks after booster shots were dished, in the clearest sign yet that the programme is working.

Health Ministry officials say the R rate — which signals how fast the virus is spreading — has dropped below the crucial level, suggesting the outbreak is now shrinking in that age group.

Israel became the first country in the world to start rolling out booster shots to over-60s last month — and more than half have already got their third dose.

Israel's Covid cases appear to be plateauing almost four weeks after the booster programme began. Health Ministry data showed the country's infection rate was 842 cases per 100,000 people on August 23, down from 844.5 the day before

Israel’s Covid cases appear to be plateauing almost four weeks after the booster programme began. Health Ministry data showed the country’s infection rate was 842 cases per 100,000 people on August 23, down from 844.5 the day before

But Covid deaths in the country are continuing to rise. Deaths lag behind cases by around three weeks

But Covid deaths in the country are continuing to rise. Deaths lag behind cases by around three weeks

The country today expanded the programme to over-30s, after previously making all over-40s, teachers and frontline medics and carers eligible.

Israeli Government adviser and data scientist Professor Eran Segal said infection rates in over-60s are still ‘very high’ but that the ‘increase in the rate of infections… has diminished’.

‘This is likely due to the third booster shots,’ he said, ‘an uptick in people taking the first dose and the high number of people infected per week who now have natural immunity.’



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