The United Kingdom has announced it will offer a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine to everyone over 50 and other vulnerable people to help the country ride out the pandemic through the winter months.
The booster shots, which will be rolled out beginning next week, were approved a day after the Conservative government also backed plans to offer one vaccine dose to children 12 to 15.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the government, recommended that booster shots be offered to everyone over 50, health care workers, people with underlying health conditions and those who live with people whose immune systems are compromised.
They will be given no earlier than six months after a person received their second dose of vaccine.
About 30 million people will be eligible for the booster shots, which aim to protect against a modest waning in immunity among those who have received two jabs.
“The result of this vaccination campaign is we have one of the most free societies and one of the most open economies in Europe,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Tuesday.
“That’s why we’re now sticking with our strategy.”
Although the number of people contracting COVID-19 is way higher than this time last year – more than 30,000 new infections a day – the British government has opted not to re-introduce further virus restrictions for England, as the vaccine drive this year has reduced the number of people requiring treatment and subsequently dying.
However, Johnson said the government was ready to re-introduce measures over the coming weeks and months if the pressure on hospitals becomes acute.
The number of people in UK hospitals with COVID-19 stands at about 8500, way down from the near 40,000 that were hospitalised earlier this year during a catastrophic second wave of the pandemic.
The decision to offer booster shots is not one that’s being recommended by the World Health Organisation, which has asked wealthy nations to delay giving them out until every country has vaccinated at least 40 per cent of their people.
Only a few other wealthy countries have recommended their use. In the United States, the FDA is publicly debating booster shots later this week.