‘Biggest risk is new variants’: 60 million Pfizer Covid jabs secured for autumn booster scheme

Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the vaccine efforts to ensure the coming winter is not like the last one

Sixty million more Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines have been secured for when the UK begins its booster jab campaign in the autumn, Matt Hancock has announced.

Booster vaccines will be administered to those considered vulnerable to coronavirus in a bid to give them the «strongest possible protection against Covid-19», ahead of the winter months when the NHS is most strained.

The health secretary said with 25% of the population having already received both coronavirus jabs, the vaccination programme is «bringing back our freedom».

But he warned that the «biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant».

While there is no evidence to say new Covid strains can evade vaccines, there is serious concern among scientists that eventually a mutation could develop that renders a vaccination ineffective.

Clinical trials on booster jabs are currently ongoing, with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) studying the use of different combinations of approved Covid-19 vaccines.

Mr Hancock said: “We’re working on our plans for booster shots, which are the best way to keep us safe and free while we get this disease under control across the whole world. “These further 60 million doses will be used, alongside others, as part of our booster programme from later this year, so we can protect the progress that we’ve all made.»

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said there is «consensus» that there will be a third wave of coronavirus in the UK, but said a successful vaccination programme could quash its impact.

If the vaccination programme continues to be successful «the third wave, so to speak, might just be a third upsurge and much less significant», Prof Van-Tam said, but he admitted it is «inconceivable» to believe there will not be further bumps in the road.

«I am anticipate some degree of bumpiness, probably in the autumn and the winter, he added.

Despite concerns about a potential third wave, Mr Hancock said the government remains «on track» to take step three out of lockdown, which will see indoor hospitality reopen and many social restrictions lifted.

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The additional Pfizer doses come on top of the 517 million jabs of various vaccines the UK has already secured, however a number have not yet been approved.

Vaccines produced by Janssen, Novavax, Valneva, GSK, Sanofi and CureVac are all still awaiting approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Under-30s have been banned from receiving the AstraZeneca jab due to an extremely small risk of bloodclots, which could be the reason only additional Pfizer vaccines have been ordered for the booster programme.

Meanwhile, Public Health England has found a single dose of either the Pfizer of AstraZeneca vaccine can reduce household transmission of coronavirus by up to half.

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The breakthrough findings offer further hope the coronavirus pandemic can be brought under control as vaccinated people are far less likely to pass the virus onto others.Protection was seen from around 14 days after vaccination, with similar levels regardless of a person’s age.

Currently in the UK more than 33.9 million adults or 64.5% have had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, while more than 13.5 million or 25.8% have had both doses.

It is thought at least 10,400 lives have been saved in the UK due to the vaccination programme.

On the booster jab campaign, the government says it will publish further details in «due course» and final decisions will be informed by the JCVI.

Watch the press conference in full:

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