The UK's National Health Service (NHS) said on Thursday that it will start rolling out the next phase of booster vaccines to protect against COVID-19 from early next month, with the new bivalent Moderna jab targeting the original and Omicron strains to be used based on availability.
Following updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) earlier this week, the NHS said it has set out plans for the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccination programme to begin from September 5. NHS staff will begin vaccinating care home residents and people who are housebound in the first tranche, to be rolled out to others based on age group later. "The NHS was the first healthcare system in the world to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials, and will now be the first to deliver the new, variant-busting vaccine when the rollout begins at the start of September, said NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard.
"Our fantastic NHS staff have worked incredibly hard to deliver 126 million doses to date and behind the scenes they have once again been preparing to deliver the latest phase with the same speed and precision as we have had throughout the rollout. When the time comes, I would strongly encourage anyone who is invited to take up both an autumn booster and flu jab, to do so as quickly as possible it will give you maximum protection this winter," she said. Around 26 million people across England will be eligible for an autumn booster in line with guidance set out by the JCVI. As many as 3,000 sites are expected to be part of the rollout, including GP surgeries and community pharmacies.
The NHS will offer people the new next generation bivalent vaccine where appropriate and subject to sufficient supply being made available to the NHS, NHS England said. The JCVI and MHRA have stressed that the original vaccines also continue to provide great protection and people should come forward regardless of vaccine offered, it said.
The autumn booster campaign is among a package of NHS measures to prepare for winter. More than 126 million COVID vaccines have been administered by NHS staff and volunteers since the first Covid-19 jab was delivered outside of clinical trials in December 2020. "This winter will be the first time we see the real effects of both covid and flu in full circulation as we go about life as normal and so it is vital that those most susceptible to serious illness from these viruses come forward for the latest jab in order to protect themselves, said NHS director for vaccinations and screening Steve Russell.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.