Covid booster vaccine: Who is eligible for the autumn Covid-19 booster vaccine, why is it important to get the jab and how does it protect me?

The UK became the first country in the world to approve Moderna’s bivalent vaccine which is part of the autumn booster programme.

The government assures that people will be able to get a new bivalent Covid-19 vaccine as part of the autumn booster programme.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has offered its advice on which vaccines should be used for each age group in this year’s autumn booster programme.

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Every available booster vaccine will provide strong protection against severe form of the virus and the Committee has underlined that getting a booster in good time before the winter season is more important for those eligible than the type of vaccine that is received.

A dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is prepared ahead of being given to a member of the public. (Pic credit: Niklas Halle'n / AFP via Getty Images)A dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is prepared ahead of being given to a member of the public. (Pic credit: Niklas Halle'n / AFP via Getty Images)
A dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is prepared ahead of being given to a member of the public. (Pic credit: Niklas Halle'n / AFP via Getty Images)

‘Bivalent’ vaccines have also been developed by global manufacturers since the surgance and dominance of the Omicron variant.

Who is eligible for the autumn Covid-19 booster vaccine?

The main groups eligible for this booster vaccine are people aged 50 years and older, residents in care homes for the elderly, those who are aged five years and older in a clinical risk group and health and social care staff.

Covid-19 is more serious in older people and in people who are clinically vulnerable with underlying health conditions.

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During the winter season, it is expected that many respiratory infections, including Covid-19 and flu may be spreading fast and this could put increasing pressure on hospitals and other health care services. To reduce this chance, these groups of people will take priority.

The autumn booster is also being offered to those at high risk of the complications of Covid-19 infection, who may not have been boosted for a few months.

Appointments should be offered between September and December 2022, with those at highest risk being called first.

You should have your booster at least three months after your last dose of vaccine.

Which vaccine will I be offered?

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You will be given a booster dose of a vaccine made either by Pfizer or Moderna.

You may be offered an updated combination version of these booster vaccines; the combination vaccines include a half-dose of the previous vaccine combined with half-dose of a vaccine against the Omicron variant.

Both the previous and the combination vaccines boost protection very well, although the combination vaccines produce slightly higher levels of antibody against some strains of Omicron.

If you have had any of the following (very rare) severe reactions to a previous dose of the vaccine, you should discuss this with your doctor:

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- Inflammation of the heart (called myocarditis or pericarditis). These cases have been very rarely reported after both the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines. They are mostly seen in younger men and within several days of the vaccination. Most people affected have felt better and recovered quickly following rest and simple treatments.

- Chest pain

- Shortness of breath

- Feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart

Why is it important to take the autumn booster Covid vaccine?

With the winter months approaching, the government and health professionals are urging eligible people to take the upcoming vaccines to protect against any further strains that could potentially spread during the colder months.

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Professor and chair of Covid-19 immunisation on the JCVI, Wei Shen Lim, said: “All of the available booster vaccines offer very good protection against severe illness from Covid-19. As more vaccines continue to be developed and approved, the JCVI will consider the benefits of including them in the UK programme.

“It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn, whichever vaccine is on offer. This will increase your protection against being severely ill from Covid-19 as we move into winter.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, also emphasised the importance of taking the vaccine.

“Although cases of Covid-19 are relatively low at present, we are expecting to see the virus circulating more widely during the winter months,” she said.

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“The booster is being offered to those at higher risk of severe illness and by taking up the booster vaccine this autumn, you will increase your protection ahead of the winter months, when respiratory viruses are typically at their peak.”

What does Moderna’s bivalent vaccine protect against?

These vaccines contain two different antigens, substances that induce an immune response, based on two different Covid-19 strains or variants. Whereas the original mRNA vaccines contain one antigen, based on the original ‘wild-type’ variant.

Research shows that the Moderna bivalent vaccine produces a slightly higher immune response against some variants than the original Moderna mRNA vaccine. The clinical relevance of these small differences is unknown.

The updated Moderna bivalent vaccine targets both the original strain of the virus from the year 2020 as well as the Omicron variant. However, it has been revealed that the country does not have enough doses to offer the new jab to all people eligible for the booster.

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Around 26 million people are to be offered the booster vaccine in autumn, whilst only 13 million of the new bivalent Moderna vaccines are available.

Chief executive at Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Dr June Raine, said: “I am pleased to announce the approval of the Moderna bivalent booster vaccine, which was found in the clinical trial to provide a strong immune response against the Omicron BA.1 variant as well as the original 2020 strain.

“The first generation of Covid-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives. What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armoury to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.

“We have in place a comprehensive safely surveillance strategy for monitoring the safety of all UK-approved Covid-19 vaccines and this will include the vaccine approved today.”

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