COVID booster jabs in the autumn 'may not be needed', says vaccine expert

A NHS staff prepares to administer the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to a member of the public at a vaccination centre in London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A vaccine expert has said it is not clear yet if booster jabs will be needed this autumn. (PA) (SIPA USA/PA Images)

Autumn booster jabs for coronavirus may not be required, a leading vaccine expert has said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said clinical trials showed vaccine protection was in “quite a good place at the moment”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At the moment we’re not seeing any evidence, that I’m aware of, of any loss of protection over time.

“And we know, at least from the clinical trials, [there was] protection for the first six months after people have had two doses.

“But we don’t know yet whether boosters will be needed or not.”

Watch: UK launches world-first clinical trial on COVID booster vaccines

The government has previously said extra jabs could be required later this year to enhance protection, especially from emerging variants.

Earlier this week, trials began at Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge to see which COVID vaccine works best as a third dose booster jab.

The Cov-Boost study, led by the University of Southampton, is the first of its kind in the world: it will give people a third vaccine dose to find out if doing so offers more protection than two jabs.

According to the government’s latest figures, more than 41.6 million people in the UK have had a first dose of a COVID vaccine, while more than 29.9 million have had both jabs.

On Monday, Boris Johnson announced that England’s planned end of restrictions on 21 June will be extended for another four weeks until 19 July, following concerns about the spread of the Delta variant, which originated in India and is now the UK’s dominant strain.

He said the goal is to offer all adults a first dose by that second date.

Johnson said two-thirds of adults will have been offered both doses by 19 July, because the gap between jabs for over-40s is being reduced from 12 to eight weeks.

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Prof Pollard said: “We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure the second doses are into as many of those people over 50 – who are the greatest risk of hospitalisation – to try and minimise that.

“We also have a virus that’s circulating which will cause some mild disease in those who’ve had two doses, and that will actually boost their immunity as well.

“So we’re actually in quite a good place at the moment, we’re not seeing any failure over time, waning of that protection.

“But it is something that needs to be looked at over time but I don’t think we have the evidence to predict the dates.”

Mark Nicolls receives an injection of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine administered by nurse Amy Nash, at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, Berkshire. The Moderna vaccine is the third to be approved for use in the UK, and is now being given to patients in England. Picture date: Tuesday April 13, 2021.
More than 29 million people in the UK have had both COVID jabs. (PA) (PA)

On Monday, Matt Hancock said a booster programme means it “isn’t inevitable” there will be a rise of coronavirus infections in autumn and winter.

Asked in the House of Commons if he would rule out the return of restrictions after summer if there is a rise in cases, he said: “It may happen but it’s not inevitable because we also have the planned booster programme to strengthen further the vaccination response.

“But it is absolutely clear, based on all the clinical advice that I’ve seen, that a goal of eradication of this virus is impossible.

“We must learn to live with this virus and we must learn how we can live our normal lives with this virus.”

In April, Hancock announced that 60 million Pfizer doses had been secured as part of a booster programme.

Watch: Health secretary announces 60 million booster vaccines