Vaccine booster campaign should start ‘pretty soon’ for over-80s and vulnerable

A coronavirus vaccine booster campaign should begin quickly for those over 80s and certain groups of clinically vulnerable people, an expert has said.

Professor Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia said that a wider booster campaign may not be needed as vaccines are still effective at warding off serious disease.

His comments come as experts from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) prepare to make a final decision about the booster campaign, with the NHS in England poised to start the campaign from September 6.

Health officials have plans in place to offer a third jab to 30 million over-50s and clinically vulnerable people but are yet to get a green light from Government advisers.

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Experts will also issue guidance as to whether the UK will follow other countries and offer the vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds.

Prof Hunter told the PA news agency that certain groups of people should be offered a booster jab “pretty soon”.

He said that the UK will learn to live with around 45,000 infections a day of the virus which causes Covid-19 – also known as Sars-CoV-2 once it reaches “epidemic equilibrium”.

Covid-19 “the disease” will be consigned to history in around three years time, he predicted.

Prof Hunter said that people who had had the vaccine but did not respond as well “need to be boosted soon”.

“Within that category are: people with severe underlying disease; people with severe cancers that are on chemotherapy; people on high-dose steroids for autoimmune diseases; people who have had solid organ transplants; people who are actually morbidly obese,” he said.

“I would also add over-80s to that category.”

Prof Hunter added: “The evidence is that these people won’t have responded that well to vaccine.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no debate whatsoever about that group, they should be boosted and they should be boosted pretty soon.

“And it’s not because the vaccine has waned, is because chances are they did not respond that well the first time around.”

He said: “When you look at the rest of the population, what we’re seeing is that protection against infection is declining.

“But protection against severe disease is not at the moment, although ultimately it will – though hopefully not for a number of years.

“And so that the value of boosting people who aren’t going to get severely ill is debatable.”

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He also suggested that he was not in favour of vaccinating healthy under-16s, but said he would follow whatever advice the JCVI gives.

Cases in England are going down at the moment, but when schools return he said that “it could get worse”, although he did not want to speculate further.

The professor in medicine said that the nation will continue to see Covid infections in society, “but the issue is whether actually that’s going to cause ill health”.

He said: “We’re getting close to what’s called the endemic equilibrium, which is the sort of number of infections we can expect on average per day forever.

“Looking at the other coronaviruses it’s about 45,000 infections a day.

“If you work it out, based on what we know about duration of immunity and the principles for Covid, it works out about 45,000 infections a day (across the UK). So that’s what we’ve got to look forward to.

“But the vast majority of those infections for the other coronaviruses asymptomatic, they don’t cause any harm. And when they do with some mild dose of the common cold.

“And that’s the way that this is going to go, absolutely no doubt about it.

“We won’t see Covid ‘the disease’ any more after a few years. Typically pandemics tend to last for about three years, give or take.

“And the last big coronavirus pandemic lasted three years – that was in 1890, with the Russian flu. The virus that caused the Russian flu is still with us, and it’s still not that different probably from the virus that circulated 130 years ago, but we don’t see it causing the disease.

“Covid-19 the disease will almost certainly consigned to history except in very few occasional cases.”

He said that at present the “attack rate” of the virus is highest in areas that fared better in previous waves.

“At the moment, most of the action is in areas that haven’t fared so badly in the past,” he said.

“If you look at the interactive map of cases, the highest attack rates are Devon, Cornwall, south-west Wales, the border areas of Scotland – all of them are areas that have actually not had much disease in the past.

“So possibly that’s a sign that’s where there’s more people who are still susceptible. And that’s why it’s picking off those areas.”