LONDON — People over the age of 40 in the U.K. will be eligible for a booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine from Monday.
The extension of the booster program was announced by the country’s medical regulators at a press briefing on Monday morning.
Until now, only over 50s and people with underlying health conditions were eligible for a booster shot.
As with the U.K.’s existing booster rollout, the newly eligible over-40s will have to wait six months from receiving their second shot before they can have the third dose.
Regulators also announced on Monday that 16- and 17-year-olds, who had initially only been eligible for a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Britain, would now be offered a second dose.
The U.K. reported 36,517 new Covid infections on Sunday, with cases over the last seven days rising by 6% from a week earlier. Cases have dropped from the huge numbers seen in October, but the country still has one of the highest rates of infection in the world.
Speaking at Monday’s press conference, Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said the booster program was moving “at considerable pace” and achieving “well in excess of 90% protection against symptomatic infection.”
Data from Israel — where boosters were rolled out in July and are now available for everyone over the age of 12 — shows that in over-60s, a third dose leads to a tenfold reduction in Covid infections, an 18.7-fold reduction in hospitalization, and a 14.7-fold reduction in mortality, according to Van-Tam.
“I believe, therefore, that if the booster program is successful with very high uptake, we can massively reduce the worry about hospitalization and death due to Covid at Christmas and for the rest of this winter for literally millions of people,” he told reporters. “It really is as simple and decisive as that.”
Van-Tam also noted that it was clear immunity from the initial two doses of the vaccine waned over time, particularly in older adults and people with health conditions.
“The waning signal, whilst smaller, is also beginning to show in the 40 to 49s. Without boosting, I would not expect it to be static, I would expect it to increase,” he said.
June Raine, CEO of British medicines regulator the MHRA, told the press conference on Monday that the Covid vaccines continued to have an “overwhelmingly positive benefit-risk balance.”
“Since the booster doses began to be rolled out, we have identified no new safety concerns,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lim Wei Shen, a member of the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, added that the booster dose “markedly strengthens existing protection and will extend the duration of that protection against serious disease.”
“We therefore urge people who are eligible for a booster to step up and have your booster and maximize your protection,” he said.
Pfizer research has shown that immunity gained from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine peaks between a week and two months after the second dose. It then declines by an average of 6% every two months. Meanwhile, a U.K. study showed that immunity from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is around 82% effective after the first two shots, fell to 67% four to five months after the second dose.
A number of countries, including Israel, France and Germany, have rolled out some form of vaccine booster program.
In the U.S., the FDA has approved booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for elderly and at-risk adults six months on from their initial two doses.
Last week, Pfizer asked the FDA to extend that policy so that all adults over the age of 18 will be eligible for a third dose.