Booster jabs could make ‘big difference’ in beating Covid if rolled out to younger groups, Neil Ferguson says

Offering third dose to under-50s would cut transmission, says Sage adviser

Adam Forrest
Saturday 13 November 2021 15:53
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Giving booster vaccines to young people would make a “big difference” in bringing down Covid transmission in the UK, a top government adviser has said.

Boris Johnson’s administration is currently focused on increasing the take-up of booster jabs among the over-50s and clinically vulnerable Britons most at risk from coronavirus.

But Professor Neil Ferguson – who sits on the government’s Sage sub-committee – said expanding the booster programme to younger adults would significantly cut Covid transmission.

“I see no reason why we shouldn’t be rolling them out to younger age groups once we’ve got through the priority groups – the over 50s and the clinically vulnerable,” the leading epidemiologist told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Prof Ferguson added: “Our modelling – modelling of a group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – suggests that yes, it could make quite a big difference to driving transmission down to low levels.”

There are currently no plans to give boosters to adults under the age of 50. Any decision the expand the programme would be made by scientists on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

JCVI Professor Wei Shen Lim told a recent Downing Street news conference that “younger people tend to generate good immune responses from primary vaccinations”.

Health secretary Sajid Javid has said the government remains focused on expanding the uptake of boosters among the over-50s and most vulnerable. Earlier this week he encouraged all those eligible “to take up the offer as soon as you can”.

Mr Javid has also said that he could not “rule out” changing the definition of “fully vaccinated” from two doses to three when it comes to older people in the UK.

It follows announcement by the French government announced that over-65s would need to show proof of a booster jab from mid-December to be considered fully-vaccinated and keep their health pass valid.

Asked on Friday if he would consider the same approach as France, Mr Javid told Sky News: “We’re not looking at that yet,” before adding, “I can’t rule that out.”

Meanwhile, Prof Ferguson said he hopes the UK can “avoid” returning to social distancing restrictions this winter: “I think it is unlikely we will get anything close to what we had last year, that catastrophic winter wave.”

He warned that the UK could be seeing an “uptick” in Covid cases but it is in “quite a different situation” from other European nations like the Netherlands and Germany where renewed curbs on freedoms are being considered.

The expert added: “We can’t be complacent, but at the moment I don’t think we’ll be in a situation the Netherlands is coming into where they really do need to get on top of rising case numbers using social distancing. I very much hope we can avoid that in this country.”

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