Last month, the NHS invited over one million people to get their Covid-19 booster jabs - and now all over-18s in the UK will soon be able to take part in the programme.
The introduction of the booster jab marked the start of the NHS vaccination programme’s new phase for winter. Those who have had their second vaccine at least six months ago are eligible for the jab to increase their protection.
Previously, appointments were made by invitation only to those aged 40 and over. But the NHS has come under pressure to speed up the programme and make it available to all adults due to the potential wave of infections driven by new variant, Omicron.
Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has also suggested that the minimum gap between a second vaccine dose and a booster jab should be reduced to three months.
When asked about the potential return of coronavirus restrictions during his trip to the G20 summit in Rome in October, prime minister Boris Johnson urged those eligible to get their booster jabs.
“I think rather than thinking new restrictions, the best thing everybody can do is get that booster jab as soon as you’re offered it,” he told reporters.
“It’s a very important message. I think people don’t quite realise that the first two jabs do start to wane.
“How sad, how tragic it would be if people who had other complications, other compromises in their health, got seriously ill because they were overconfident about their level of immunity and didn’t get their booster when they needed it.
“So please, please, please can everybody get their boosters.”
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 aimed 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 is divided into two stages, with the JCVI saying it would considering third doses for people under 50 at a later date when more data is available.
However, on 15 November, it was announced that the booster programme had been broadened to include healthy people over the age of 40. And on 29 November, it was announced that all over-18s in the UK would be offered booster jabs.
The NHS is currently working on its plans to offer booster jabs to everyone aged 18 and older.
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 over 18 and it has been at least six months (182 days) since your second dose of a Covid vaccine.
You can also go to any walk-in vaccination centre to get a booster jab. People are advised to use the NHS online walk-in finder to check where their nearest centre is.
You can still use the national booking system to book an appointment for the booster jab. 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.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme said: “NHS staff are making it as easy as possible for people to get their top-up vaccination, and from today people can now go online, find their nearest site and go and get their booster without delay.
“The booster is not just a nice to have, it is really important protection ahead of what we know will be a challenging winter.
“So if you are eligible, please do check the site finder and go get your jab.”
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.”
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.
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