A spring booster vaccine against Covid-19 must be offered to those most at risk of contracting the disease seriously to protect them this summer.
UK vaccine experts say it should be available to everyone over 75, care home residents and anyone extremely vulnerable aged five and over.
Vaccinations in England and Wales are due to start in early April, with the rollout in Northern Ireland from mid-April.
Scotland’s recall campaign will begin the last week of March.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said hospital admission rates for Covid-19 in the fall of 2022 showed the risk of becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus was significantly higher. in people over 75 years old.
As a result, they would gain the most from being protected by an extra dose of vaccine this spring, with health chiefs warning against complacency.
They include people who have had an organ transplant or have blood cancer, and those undergoing cancer chemotherapy treatment.
It is advisable to administer the booster vaccine six months after the previous dose.
Bridging the gap
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chairman of JCVI, said: “Vaccination remains the best way to protect against Covid-19, and the spring booster program provides an opportunity for those most at risk of severe illness from maintain their enhanced immunity.
“This year’s spring program will bridge the gap with the booster program scheduled for the fall, allowing the most vulnerable people to be well protected throughout the summer.”
The NHS in England plans to offer the first spring booster doses to eligible people in April, and the campaign will run until the end of June. Wales have confirmed they will start on April 1.
Four different vaccines, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Sanofi/GSK and Novavax could be used.
It is likely that most doses will protect against the Omicron variant as well as the previous ones.
Since last summer, different versions of the Omicron variant of Covid have spread the most – the latest being Omicron BQ.1.
Children under 12 will be offered a children’s formulation of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of vaccinations at the UK Health Security Agency, said Covid-19 was still circulating widely and there had recently been an increase in the number of older people being admitted to hospital.
“It is important that those most at risk of serious illness do not become complacent and I encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward once the recall program begins.”
People at higher risk of severe Covid-19 should also be offered a booster shot in fall 2023 in preparation for winter.
Last fall, frontline health and care workers, adults aged 50 and over, and some caregivers and household contacts were also offered a booster dose.