Last month, the NHS invited over one million people to get their Covid-19 booster jabs. It marked the start of the NHS vaccination programme’s new phase ahead of winter. Those who have had their second vaccine at least six months ago are eligible for the booster jab to increase their protection.
Anyone in the qualifying groups for a booster jab – which includes adults aged 50 and over, those living in care homes, frontline health and social care workers, young people with underlying health conditions, and household contacts of immunosuppressed adults – can now book an appointment online a week after they become eligible.
Previously, appointments were made by invitation only. But the NHS has come under pressure to speed up the programme as winter approaches and coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalisations are on the rise.
On Thursday 21 October, the UK recorded 52,009 new cases and 115 further deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test. Prime minister Boris Johnson urged anyone over the age of 50 to come forward to get their booster jabs to “fortify ourselves further”.
But what exactly is a booster jab and why might we need them?
What is a booster jab?
A booster jab is an additional dose of a vaccine that was administered before, and gives the immune system a top up to ensure a good level of antibodies are present.
Dr Ashish Srivastava, GP and Medical Director at Gogodoc told the PA news agency: “Vaccines contain a weakened form of the disease-causing virus or bacteria, and work by triggering your immune system to attack the foreign organism, like it would if you actually had the disease.
“As a result, your immune system is able to ‘remember’ the disease-causing bacteria or virus, and if you’re exposed to it again, your body’s defence cells (antibodies) can recognise and kill the germ before it causes harm.
“Boosters are the same vaccine which can be given, weeks, months or even years after the first vaccine in order to boost your immune system with a further weakened form of the virus.”
Who will need a booster?
During the early planning stages of the booster programme, the NHS aims to administer the jabs to more than 30 million of the most vulnerable people in the UK, including all adults aged 50 and above, and anyone over 16 who qualifies for a flu jab.
The initial booster rollout will be divided into two stages, with the JCVI considering third doses for people under 50 at a later date when more data is available.
Boosters will be given in the same order of priority as for the initial vaccine, as follows:
- Care home residents and staff
- People aged 80 and over, and frontline health and social care workers
- People aged 75 and over
- People aged 70 and over, and adults who are clinically extremely vulnerable
- People aged 65 and over
- Adults who are at higher risk from Covid-19, including people with heart and circulatory conditions
- People aged 60 and over
- People aged 55 and over
- People aged 50 and over
How can I book a vaccine booster jab?
If you are eligible for a vaccine booster jab, you no longer have to wait for the NHS to contact you to make an appointment. You can get a booster jab if you are in one of the qualifying groups and it has been at least six months (182 days) since your second dose of a Covid vaccine.
If you’ve had a positive Covid test, wait four weeks (28 days) before booking your booster, starting from the date you had the test. You can use the national booking system to book your appointment.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “If you haven’t been invited within a week of reaching that six-month milestone, then please get on to the national booking service and book online or phone 119 not just to save lives, but to keep your freedoms too.”
Are booster jabs needed for holidays?
Maybe. It has been reported that booster jabs might be needed for quarantine-free travel abroad in future.
A government source told the Mail on Sunday: “The assumption is that you will be required to have the most up-to-date health passport.
“So if the advice is to have a booster six months after your second jab, then that is what you’ll need.”
Currently, Britons who have received both doses of a Covid vaccine are exempt from quarantine when they return from most countries, except for those on the UK government’s “red” list. Those who have not yet been vaccinated must isolate for 10 days when they return.
But at least five countries have set an “expiry date” on vaccination statuses, with varying lengths of time for when tourists are considered immune to Covid-19 after a second jab.
Austria and Croatia were the first to set such a deadline, which was initially 270 days after a second jab but both countries have now extended it to a year. They are joined by Switzerland.
Vietnam will only allow fully-vaccinated travellers to enter the country in a phased appraoch, but tourists must have had their second dose of the vaccine between 14 days and one year before travel.
Under policies set by Israel’s Health Ministry, vaccine booster jabs are required six months after the second jab of a Covid vaccine. In line with this, the Israeli government has added an expiry date of six months to vaccine passports (Covid Green Pass) currently needed to get into the country’s indoor venues.