London, Sept. 14: Booster jabs for over 50s and younger adults with health conditions are being recommended by government vaccine advisers.
Around 30 million people in the UK, including frontline health and care workers, will be offered a booster.
The Pfizer jab is recommended, regardless of which vaccine people had previously, and it should be given at least six months after the second dose.
Ministers are expected to give the plan the green light later. If they do, the booster programme would begin this month.
The government is also preparing to set out its plan for managing Covid through the autumn and winter.
Concerns about waning immunity
The recommendation from the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) comes amid concern about waning immunity.
There are some signs protection offered by the vaccine may start waning several months after the second dose - with the most vulnerable groups most at risk of this.
The JCVI said it was still unclear by exactly how much protection does slip, but it wanted to take a precautionary approach and ensure the most vulnerable people maintain high levels of protection.
The advice is separate from the recent recommendation of third doses for people with severely weakened immune systems - something that is already being rolled out.
Those eligible for a booster jab include:
- those living in residential care homes for older adults - all adults aged 50 years or over - frontline health and social care workers - all those aged 16 to 49 years with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 - adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
Trials have been carried out in the UK looking at the use of booster jabs.
The JCVI said they showed Pfizer was well-tolerated and provoked a good immune response, including against new variants of the virus, such as Delta, regardless of which Covid vaccine had been given for the first two doses.
It said where Pfizer was not available a half-dose of Moderna could also be used.
For people who cannot have the Pfizer or Moderna because of issues like allergies, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used as a booster.
A gap of six months between the second dose and the booster shot was considered the most effective for boosting protection.
The trials also showed the flu vaccine can also be given at the same time as the booster jab where that is practical - some people will be offered a flu jab before they become eligible for a Covid booster.
'Bumpy winter' predicted
JCVI chair Prof Wei Shen Lim said: "The UK's Covid vaccination programme has been hugely successful in protecting people against hospitalisation and death, and the main aim of the booster programme is to prolong that protection and reduce serious disease as we head towards the colder months."
He said even a small tip in vaccine effectiveness could have a big impact on hospital admission numbers given the size of the population.
He said those under 50 were likely to have a more long-lasting immune response to the first two doses of vaccine so may not need a booster - although he did not rule it out happening completely.
England's deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van Tam said the UK was likely to in for a "bumpy winter" with Covid coupled with other respiratory viruses, such as flu, returning - lockdowns and social distancing meant they were kept at very low levels.
He said the booster programme was about "staying on top of Covid" and could make a "very substantial impact" on hospitalisations and deaths.
Around 85% of deaths in recent weeks have been among the over 60s.
But Prof Van Tam added it was also important that those who had not yet come forward for jab did so - more than 5 million adults have not yet had their first dose yet.
Government 'trying to avoid restrictions'
The announcement comes after the government confirmed on Monday that all children aged 12 to 15 in England would be offered one dose of the Pfizer jab, with invitations going out from next week.
It follows advice from the UK's chief medical officers, who say the jab will help reduce disruption to education.
A rollout is yet to be confirmed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In a statement before the announcement on the booster programme, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said while the pandemic "is far from over", the "phenomenal vaccine programme, new treatments and testing" mean the UK is "able to live with the virus without significant restrictions on our freedoms".
The PM, who is holding a coronavirus press conference later, said he would lay out a strategy for the months ahead "when the virus has a natural advantage, to protect the gains we have made".