Nationwide booster jab programme may not be needed, AstraZeneca boss says

Booster vaccines may not be necessary for everyone in Britain and rolling out third doses too quickly would be an “unnecessary burden” on the NHS, the head of AstraZeneca has said.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph alongside the company’s executive vice-president of biopharmaceuticals R&D Sir Mene Pangalos, chief executive Pascal Soriot called for patience from the Government, stressing the UK was “a few weeks away” from having a definitive answer on the effectiveness of two doses in providing “continued, protective immunity”.

They said: “Moving too quickly to boost across the entire adult population will deprive us of these insights, leaving this important decision to rest on limited data.

“A third dose for all may be needed, but it may not. Mobilising the NHS for a boosting programme that is not needed would potentially add unnecessary burden on the NHS over the long winter months.

HEALTH Coronavirus
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK (PA Graphics)

“Because NHS staff and resources are scarce, another national mobilisation would potentially leave us with fewer resources for cancer screenings and the other care provided by doctors and nurses each day.”

Their comments come after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs a vaccine booster programme is “ready to go” as soon as the scientific advice for the scheme is signed off.

More than half a million people with severely weakened immune systems and who are most at risk from Covid-19 will be offered another vaccine dose beginning this month, following a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

But that announcement is separate from any decision on a booster programme, with news on this expected soon.

Mr Zahawi added that he hopes the virus can be dealt with “year in, year out” without having to take the “severe measures” seen last December, telling BBC Breakfast: “Vaccines have given us the ability to reduce infections, to save 100,000 lives.

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“It is through the booster programme that I hope … we can transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status and deal with it year in, year out.

“It is going to be with us for many years – but not have to close down our economy or take the severe measures we had to sadly take in December of last year.”

The UK’s chief medical officers are currently reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, such as minimising school absences, after the JCVI declined to recommend a widespread rollout to the age group on health grounds alone.

A total of 668 deaths registered in the week ending August 27 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – the highest number since 719 deaths were registered in the week to March 26.

The latest figures show the impact of the third wave of Covid-19, which began in the UK in May, but the number of deaths is still well below the level seen at the peak of the second wave.