Tag: Vaccination

Uptake of influenza vaccination in pregnancy

Our study published today in the British Journal of General Practice shows how the uptake of flu vaccination in pregnancy varies with age, ethnicity and socio-economic deprivation.

Pregnant women are at an increased risk from influenza (flu), yet uptake of  Seasonal influenza vaccination (SIV) during pregnancy remains low, despite increases since 2010.

Getting the flu vaccine when pregnant is important, because it reduces the risk of severe disease, complications and adverse outcomes for both mother and child such as pre-term birth. However, uptake was lower among women living in more deprived areas, women who were younger or older than average, Black women and those with undocumented ethnicity.

Although the flu vaccine is safe and recommended for pregnant women, misconceptions about safety play a role in pregnant women not being vaccinated and flu vaccination levels among pregnant women are suboptimal worldwide.

In the UK, since 2010, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that pregnant women get the flu vaccine to provide protection during the winter flu season. Despite these recommendations, data from Public Health England (now the YK Health Security Agency) showed that in 2020-21, fewer than half of pregnant women were vaccinated.

Previous studies of influenza vaccine uptake during pregnancy have either used data from a single care provider, or from surveys. Our retrospective cohort study looked at 450,000 pregnancies among 260,000 women in North West London, over a ten year period. By applying statistical models to data on women’s age, ethnicity, health conditions and socio-economic deprivation, we were able to identify groups with lower uptake of the flu vaccine.

Misconceptions about the safety and efficacy of antenatal vaccinations play a role in pregnant women being unvaccinated, while recommendation by health professionals improves uptake. To ensure access to vaccines, for high uptake among pregnant women, strong primary care systems are needed and targeted approaches are recommended to reducing inequalities in access to vaccination and should focus on women of Black ethnicity, younger and older women, and women living in deprived areas.

Why shingles vaccine is important for people in their 70s

Much of the discussion about vaccination in the UK is on Covid-19 and flu vaccines or vaccines for children. But there are also other important vaccines for adults – such as for shingles – where there is scope to increase uptake and improve health outcomes for older people and the immunocompromised.

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of latent varicella zoster virus (VZV); sometimes decades after the primary chickenpox infection. For some people – particularly the elderly and the immunocompromised – shingles can be a very unpleasant illness with significant complications.

In the UK, two vaccines are licensed for shingles:

– Zostavax which contains live, attenuated virus and which is given as a single dose.

– Shingrix which is a recombinant vaccine and which his given in two doses.

The main target group for shingles vaccination in the UK is people aged 70-79 years. Most people in this group will receive the Zostavax vaccine. People in this age group who are immunocompromised should receive the Shingrix vaccine. The rationale for vaccinating the elderly is because complication rates are much higher in this group. For example, hospital admission rates for shingles (zoster) are around 20 times higher in people aged 75 and over than those aged 15-59.

When people turn 70, they should receive an invitation for shingles vaccination from their GP. If they didn’t take up the offer of a vaccination at that time, they can still get a shingles vaccination until they are 79. Once they turn 80, you will no longer be eligible for shingles vaccination. Shingles is a disease that has many complications in the elderly. It can result in considerable pain and discomfort and reduce your mobility. In more severe cases, it may require hospital treatment as an outpatient or inpatient. Vaccination reduces these risks substantially.

Implementation of covid-19 vaccination in the United Kingdom

Our new paper in the British Medical Journal reviews the implementation of the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme. The programme is essential in keeping down the number of serious cases, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 and allowing society to function more normally. Overall the programme performed well. But it’s important to address some common misconceptions about the programme. Firstly, the rapid implementation of the Covid-19 in vaccination in the UK was not due to Brexit. When the programme started, the UK had not finalised Brexit. Secondly, the vaccination programme was good and all those who supported the programme are to be congratulated for their efforts but it was not “world-leading” as some politicians have claimed. Many other countries have outperformed the UK in areas such as vaccine uptake.

One limitation of current vaccines is that although they are very successful in reducing the number of serious cases of covid-19, they are less effective in preventing infection from SARS-CoV-2, which means that vaccinated people can still become infected and infect others. Early in the vaccination programme, this was often not communicated well to the public, leading to unrealistic expectations about how well vaccines would suppress the risk of infection, particularly with the emergence of new variants that reduced vaccine efficacy.

The UK became the first country in Europe to grant emergency use authorisation for a covid-19 vaccine when the MHRA gave approval for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in adults on 2 December 2020. This decision took place when the UK was still operating under EU law. Overall, the policy for prioritising people for vaccination was fair but was criticised for not including ethnic minority groups or key occupational groups other than health and care workers, such as people working in public transport or teaching. The pandemic had major effects on the education of children, for example, and it could be argued that staff working in schools should have been prioritised in the same way as NHS staff to reduce the disruption caused by the pandemic to children’s education.

Shortly after the start of the vaccination programme in the UK, the government decided to prioritise delivery of the first dose of vaccine over the second dose, based on advice from the JCVI. This meant a delay in giving the second dose of vaccine from 3-4 weeks after the first dose to 12 weeks. The immunisation programme was disrupted by this decision, with many people having their appointments for their second doses cancelled. A key question for the Covid-19 Inquiry is why the JCVI did not consider a delayed second dose policy before the programme started. The Inquiry also needs to look at what plans were in place for evaluating the effects of the delayed second dose on clinical outcomes such as infection, hospital admission and case fatality rates and on the delivery of the vaccine programme.

Although the UK was an early adopter of covid-19 vaccines for use in adults, it was slower than many other countries to implement vaccination for 16-17 year olds, then for 12-15 year olds, and finally for 5-11 year olds. This also needs careful review by the Covid-19 Inquiry. Additional problems arose after the decision to give some immunocompromised people a third primary dose of vaccine. The rationale was that immunocompromised people often had a poor response to two doses of vaccine and that a third dose would give improved protection. The third dose programme was rolled out with little central or local planning, resulting in considerable confusion among both the public and NHS staff and leading to delays in many eligible people getting their third primary vaccine dose. Key lessons from this component of the vaccination programme were the need to give the NHS adequate time to plan and to ensure that NHS staff are fully briefed in advance of any public announcement or media briefing about vaccination policy. It’s also essential to look at the method of vaccine delivery. In England, there is now a very fragmented system. In the longer term, we need to look to integrate Covid-19 vaccination with other vaccine programmes in primary care and schools.

One area in which the UK excelled internationally was using data from the NHS, covid-19 testing, and national mortality records to monitor vaccine uptake, safety, and effectiveness. Congratulation to PHE and then to the UKHSA who set up this work.

The UK is currently very reliant on overseas manufactured vaccines. We must plan consider how we ensure that the UK can develop, test, and manufacture vaccines for the current and any future pandemics at the speed and quantity needed.

The feedback on our article from patients emphasised the importance of clear, positive messages about vaccination for the public; and personalised support for people who were vaccine hesitant or who had concerns about vaccination to help increase vaccine uptake. Access to vaccination at a local site was also important, particularly for older people or those with limited mobility. Finally, there are many questions about vaccination that the UK’s Covid-19 Inquiry will need to consider. Some of these are summarised below.

Questions for the UK’s Covid-19 Inquiry

  1. What should we be doing to secure the legacy of the covid-19 vaccine research and delivery strategy for vaccine science, vaccine manufacturing, public health, and pandemic preparedness?
  2. Why hasn’t the UK established a pipeline for the rapid development of RNA vaccines?
  3. Why did the UK lag behind many other countries in recommending covid-19 vaccines for children?
  4. How would we respond to a future pandemic causing high levels of morbidity and mortality in children?
  5. Was sufficient attention paid to targeting groups who were likely to be vaccine hesitant?
  6. What can be done to build on the JCVI’s communications and operations—particularly around public and patient involvement and engagement and its position on equality, diversity, and inclusion?
  7. Why did the JCVI not recommend a delayed second dose strategy in its initial recommendations to the government in 2020? What impact did this have?
  8. What is the best method of covid-19 vaccine delivery in the future?
  9. Should staff working in schools also have been included in the initial occupational groups targeted for vaccination (such as health and care workers) reduce the effect of the pandemic on schools, given the many adverse effects of the pandemic on the education, social development, and the physical and mental health of children?
  10. Did the UK government take the correct decisions about vaccine procurement? Was the UK correct to work alone on procurement or should there have been greater collaboration with the EU?
  11. What impact did the over-procurement of vaccines by developed countries such as the UK have on vaccine equity and on the supply of vaccines for lower income countries early in the pandemic?

Why you should get your flu vaccination

The NHS is now starting to rollout flu vaccinations for eligible people. Although the public health focus since early 2020 has been very much on Covid-19, flu remains a major threat to vulnerable individuals and the NHS in the UK.

We have been fortunate that in the last few years, flu rates have been very low in the UK. However, there are signs from Australia that we may see much higher rates of flu in the UK this winter. Australia has seen its highest flu rates since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and this may be a predictor of what the UK may face during our own winter.

Because flu rates have been low in recent years, this means that people will have less immunity from a previous infection. The end of Covid-19 control measures – such as face masks and social distancing – combined with the return of normal social activities also increase the likelihood of a large flu outbreak this winter.

This makes flu vaccination essential – particularly for the elderly, the clinically vulnerable, and people who work in health and social care. You can get your flu vaccine at a range of sites such as your GP surgery or a local pharmacy. Getting the flu vaccine reduces your risk of being infected and of suffering a more severe illness that may result in hospital admission or death. By getting vaccinated, you are also helping to reduce pressures on the NHS at a time when it is facing unpresented demands for care.

So don’t delay. Get your flu vaccine if you are eligible to protect yourself and to protect the NHS.

Update on Polio Vaccination for Health Professionals

One of my educational roles is update staff in my medical practice about topical public health issues in our weekly clinical meeting. In the most recent meeting, I gave an update on polio in London, including some key facts that health professionals need to understand.

1. Understand the difference between the two types of polio vaccines: inactivated and live. The inactivated polio vaccine has been used in the UK since 2004. Once polio has been eradicated from a country, it is safer to use the inactivated vaccine.

2. Check each patient’s polio vaccination status and encourage those patients who are not vaccinated or only partly vaccinated to receive a full course of vaccinations. Ensure that vaccine status is recorded on the patient’s electronic medical record.

3. Support the booster programme for children aged 1-9 years old that is currently being rolled out across London. Address vaccine hesitancy and any concerns about vaccination in parents sympathetically and aim to understand why people may have concerns about polio vaccines.

4. Direct parents to evidence-based resources that provide further information about both polio vaccination and childhood vaccination more generally. There are many excellent online resources published in different languages by the NHS and other government organisations.

Defining the determinants of vaccine uptake and under-vaccination in migrant populations in Europe

Our new article in Lancet Infectious Diseases discusses why some migrants in Europe are at risk of under-immunisation and show lower vaccination uptake for routine and COVID-19 vaccines. Addressing this issue is critical if we are to address vaccination inequities and meet the goals of WHO’s new Immunisation Agenda 2030.

We carried out a systematic review exploring barriers and facilitators of vaccine uptake (categorised using the 5As taxonomy: access, awareness, affordability, acceptance, activation) and sociodemographic determinants of under-vaccination among migrants in the EU and European Economic Area, the UK, and Switzerland.

We identified multiple access barriers—including language, literacy, and communication barriers, practical and legal barriers to accessing and delivering vaccination services, and service barriers such as lack of specific guidelines and knowledge of health-care professionals—for key vaccines including measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus, human papillomavirus, influenza, polio, and COVID-19 vaccines.

Acceptance barriers were mostly reported in eastern European and Muslim migrants for human papillomavirus, measles, and influenza vaccines. We identified 23 significant determinants of under-vaccination in migrants, including African origin, recent migration, and being a refugee or asylum seeker.

We did not identify a strong overall association with gender or age. Tailored vaccination messaging, community outreach, and behavioural nudges facilitated uptake. Migrants’ barriers to accessing health care are already well documented, and this Review confirms their role in limiting vaccine uptake.

These findings hold immediate relevance to strengthening vaccination programmes in high-income countries, including for COVID-19, and suggest that tailored, culturally sensitive, and evidence-informed strategies, unambiguous public health messaging, and health system strengthening are needed to address access and acceptance barriers to vaccination in migrants and create opportunities and pathways for offering catch-up vaccinations to migrants.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(22)00066-4

Why should I other getting a Covid-19 vaccine booster?

I have much bigger healthcare concerns than getting COVID-19, and the NHS doesn’t help me with them. Why should I bother to help them by getting this vaccine?

This is a question that some people often ask. By getting the Covid-19 vaccine, you are protecting yourself as well as reducing pressures on the NHS. Over 10 billion Covid-19 vaccines have been giving globally; and they have proven to be very safe and effective. The number of Covid-19 cases in the UK remains very high. Vaccines are protecting us and without them, we would be seeing many more people who are seriously ill or dying from Covid-19.

By getting vaccinated against Covid-19, you are substantially reducing your risk of a serious illness that may lead to you requiring hospital treatment or even dying. Even if you don’t need hospital treatment, Covid-19 can still be an unpleasant illness that can make you unwell for a few weeks or leave you with long-term complications.

The risks from Covid-19 are particularly high in those who are over 50 years of age, obese or who have underlying medical problems such as diabetes or kidney disease. Vaccination reduces all these risks to you. Furthermore, if too many people remain unvaccinated, this will increase the likelihood of the government having to introduce measures to control the spread of Covid-19 and reduce pressures on the NHS. This could mean, for example, bringing in restrictions on people attending large, indoor gatherings – or closing pubs, night clubs and restaurants – like the measures we have seen at times over the last two years.

It could even lead to another lockdown if pressures on the NHS were very high. These measures have had a big impact on people’s social lives and mental health, as well as on the economy, and we don’t want to see them brought back.

Finally, many countries across the world are now requiring proof of vaccination for tourists and visitors. If you are not vaccinated, you will find it difficult to visit these countries, thereby limiting your leisure opportunities or the chance to meet friends and family living overseas. So by getting vaccinated, you are not only helping the NHS. You are also helping yourself.

A national vaccination service for the NHS in England

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced on 26 January that a ‘national vaccination service’ is required to provide mass covid-19 vaccination to the population of England.[1] Speaking at a House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee meeting, Mr Javid suggested the proposed service could cover other vaccines as well as vaccines for covid-19. The rationale is that NHS General Practice is under great strain, and by removing some services that can be provided elsewhere, it will free up time for primary care teams to concentrate on their core work.

Traditionally, mass vaccine programmes in England have relied largely on general practices, increasingly supported by community pharmacies in recent years. This was demonstrated to great effect during the first wave of covid-19 vaccinations where the majority of vaccines were delivered by primary care teams. GP teams have secure electronic patient record systems, and are experienced in cold storage chains, and have medical support on site, including resuscitation equipment. Patients often know and trust their family doctors, and generally respond better to recalls for vaccination when these come from their own general practices. A move towards mass vaccine centres and away from primary care delivery may explain some of the recent slow-down in England’s covid-19 vaccine programme.[2]

The public need to be fully informed about what a national vaccination service will mean for them individually as well as the NHS. The majority of all NHS contacts occur in general practice, with around one million contacts per day.[3] This means that vaccines can be offered opportunistically when patients are attending for other reasons as well as in dedicated vaccine clinics. It also allows primary care teams to have discussions about vaccination during these consultations in patients who have concerns or questions about vaccines, or who are vaccine hesitant.

When attending for vaccination, patients also have the opportunity to discuss other issues in their health with their primary care team and to benefit from opportunistic health promotion. All this helps to ensure that vaccination is viewed holistically and not just as a transactional activity. This is particularly important for children where non-attendance for vaccination can sometimes be a safeguarding issue which requires a sensitive approach from primary care teams, as well as effective inter-agency working.

When the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that he wanted all adults England to be offered a covid-19 vaccine before the end of 2021 he looked to GPs to help. As a result, GPs were asked to drop all non-essential work and focus on vaccination for the remainder of the year. This caused much debate in the national and medical press about what the priorities should be for the NHS and for primary care. Suspending “non-essential work” will have adverse effects on people’s experience of the NHS and risks worsening health outcomes, particularly for poorer groups.[4] It is clearly also a policy that cannot be sustained for long or repeated frequently (for example, for another covid-19 vaccine booster programme later this year).

The current plan to consider a separate national vaccination service for covid-19 and possibly other vaccinations seems to be an effort to ensure that GPs are not asked to stop routine medical care again. Although investment in the NHS is welcome, and removing some workload from general practice might have merits, there are some caveats that must be considered before a new national vaccination service is established.

Firstly, any new vaccination service must be more cost-effective than existing models of delivery of vaccines, such as through general practices and pharmacists. At a time when NHS budgets are under great pressure, NHS funding must be used cost-effectively and services delivered efficiently. A new national vaccination service would require substantial funding to establish and run. For example, it is difficult to see how a national vaccine service could run effectively without full access to patients’ electronic medical records. It would also require premises from which to operate, and staff to manage and deliver the programme. We need the government to show how this investment in a new service would compare in terms of cost-effectiveness with a similar investment in primary care teams.

Secondly, a national vaccination service must achieve a high uptake of vaccination. We currently have very good uptake of most childhood vaccines in England and in 2021-22, primary care teams also achieved a record uptake of flu vaccines, for an extended group of patients compared to previous years. Vaccinations must also be delivered quickly and at scale when in a pandemic, and there must be a safe and robust system to target high risk groups; such as those with frailty, long term conditions, the housebound, people living in care homes, and patients from marginalised groups.[5]

Thirdly, creating a separate vaccination service risks further fragmentation of primary care. As we have already seen with the covid-19 NHS 119 service, many patients will still contact their GPs about vaccination queries, even if this is no longer part of the NHS GP contract. This risks creating extra work for primary care teams that is not part of their core contract and for which they will not be paid; and will also be very frustrating for patients who will have to deal with more than one healthcare provider to have any issues they have about their vaccinations and how these vaccinations are recorded are dealt with. Finally, a newly established national vaccine service may recruit staff from primary care teams, both clinical and non-clinical, thereby further worsening the current shortages of staff in NHS primary care.[6]

The government must therefore carefully examine the merits of a separate national vaccination service; and any problems it may cause for existing services; including how it might affect vaccine uptake. Investing in and strengthening existing NHS primary care infrastructure in general practices and pharmacies may be a more cost effective option. Because of the importance of vaccination in allowing England to move to “living with covid-19”, vaccinations programmes must be implemented well and achieve a high take-up, particularly in the groups most at risk of serious illness, complications and death from infectious diseases such as covid-19. We cannot risk undermining the current vaccination systems that already work efficiently and cost-effectively in England’s NHS. Any proposals for a new national vaccination service must therefore be assessed with the same rigour we would with any new medical treatment with serious consideration of the risks as well as the benefits.

 A version of this article was first published in the British Medical Journal.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o338

References

  1. Health secretary proposes ‘national vaccination service’ to relieve GPs.https://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/news/breaking-news/health-secretary-proposes-national-vaccination-service-to-offload-gps/
  2. Where are we with covid-19 vaccination in the United Kingdom?https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/07/09/where-are-we-with-covid-19-vaccination-in-the-united-kingdom/
  3. Appointments in General Practice.https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/appointments-in-general-practice–weekly-mi/current
  4. Majeed A, Maile EJ, Bindman AB. The primary care response to COVID-19 in England’s National Health Service. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2020;113(6):208-210.
  5. Covid-19 vaccines: patients left confused over rollout of third primary doses.https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/10/15/covid-19-vaccines-patients-left-confused-over-rollout-of-third-primary-doses/
  6. Oliver D. Act on workforce gaps, or the NHS will never recover BMJ 2022; 376:n3139

Boosting the nation against covid-19: are the vaccination targets feasible?

With the number of covid-19 cases from the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant rising exponentially in the UK, Boris Johnson, the prime minister addressed the nation on 12 December 2021, announcing a target to deliver a booster covid-19 vaccine to all eligible adults in England by the end of December. The devolved governments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are expected to set similar targets. This extremely ambitious target will involve delivering over one million covid-19 vaccines per day in England over the next couple of weeks. So far, 81.3% of adults have received two vaccine doses in England, but despite this the covid-19 alert system in England moved from 3 to 4 as a result of the large increase in daily case rates and the concerns that the latest variant is overwhelming the NHS.12 In response, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended reducing the time between second doses and boosters from six months to three months, rendering 14 million more individuals eligible for boosters.34 Across the NHS, staff are once again having to rapidly mobilise to ensure that as many people are vaccinated as quickly and as safely as possible, while not compromising other important areas of healthcare.

The UK’s initial vaccination programme was world leading, but then faltered mid-2021, before picking up speed again more recently.5 The covid-19 vaccination programme is delivered in multiple venues, including mass vaccine centres, schools, and workplaces, but the majority of vaccines are still administered in primary care, placing additional pressure on already overstretched GP and community pharmacy teams. There is a well documented GP crisis: falling numbers of GPs are failing to keep up with population growth and the increase in primary care workload, leading to fewer physicians caring for more patients in a chronically underfunded primary care system.6 7 This has led to increased waiting times and access issues, with a knock-on effect on hospitals at a time when there are also shortages of other key NHS professionals in secondary care.8 With a rising number of Omicron cases requiring further medical care, more resources are urgently required to safely manage this ambitious booster campaign, along with ongoing core NHS work and the usual winter demands. NHS England and the British Medical Association have agreed some pragmatic changes to focus on essential work and deprioritise some of the bureaucracy that has limited patient benefit.9

Despite the proposed acceleration of the booster rollout, frontline NHS staff were not given advance notice and GPs are yet to be informed about key details, including when they should expect deliveries of vaccines. To ensure efficient ramping up of the vaccination programme, the UK’s chief medical officers have agreed to temporarily waive the 15 minute wait policy as the majority of adverse reactions occur in the first two minutes following vaccinations, with case rates of 4.7 per million vaccinations reported for anaphylaxis.10 11

The success of the covid-19 vaccination programme has required essential healthcare services to be compromised. The pandemic has exacerbated already existing challenges in the NHS, further compounding a severe backlog for specialist care, which has now reached six million, and will take many years to resolve.12 While the public health benefits of covid-19 vaccinations are clear, specific groups remain disadvantaged by mass vaccination. Some have argued that the suspension of services, including urgent and elective surgical services, may require more equitable decision-making processes as they may not be in line with the four pillars of medical ethics: beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice.13 With the booster rollout now escalated, primary care teams are having to increase vaccination uptake without recommendations set out to address patient’s concerns, and alleviate the impact this may have on other healthcare services.

The UK is well placed to deliver large scale vaccination programmes, with all four devolved nations achieving some of Europe’s highest vaccination rates pre-pandemic.11 Appropriate and timely government planning and preparation are still needed to mitigate the risks, including economic decline and additional lockdowns, and to prevent exacerbating the impact observed across non-covid-19 healthcare services. For several months, the government ignored warnings from experts requesting an urgent move to “Plan B,” and requests to mandate standard public health measures, including mask wearing, ventilation measures (i.e. installing air filtration devices in schools), working from home, lateral flow testing before social events, and physical distancing. These have become the norm in the other three UK nations and in many European countries. The government also ignored calls to establish a sustainable, cost-effective system for covid-19 vaccination that could respond rapidly to any new demands, including the requirement for booster vaccinations.5 At this critical time, it is essential that the government invests in the systems that it relies on so heavily and that it adapts its covid-19 roadmap accordingly.

We have seen an “unimaginable” £37 billion squandered on test-and-trace—much of it on private consultants—and highly criticised by the government’s own watchdog.14 The booster rollout can showcase the power and flexibility of UK’s primary care system—but not immediately; it must be planned effectively by local NHS teams and the government. The number of booster doses will increase gradually albeit not at the rate the government hopes, and boosters take two weeks to be fully effective. We must hope that what we can achieve with boosters in the coming weeks will be sufficient to limit the impact of Omicron on public health, attenuate NHS pressures, and prevent the introduction of more severe measures.

Tasnime Osama, honorary clinical research fellow,  Simon Hodes, NHS GP partner,  Mohammad S Razai, NIHR in-practice fellow in primary care,  Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health

A version of this article was first published in the British Medical Journal.

 

Covid-19 booster vaccination questions answered

When am I allowed to have my booster?

You can have your booster Covid-19 vaccine once you are three months past your second vaccine dose. The gap was previously six months but has now been reduced.

Who is eligible for a booster?

Anyone aged 18 and over is now eligible for a booster. People aged 16-17 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe Covid-19 are also eligible for a booster. The NHS will aim to vaccinate people in order of clinical priority.

Can I have a booster if I’ve never been vaccinated?

You can’t have a booster until you are three months past your second Covid-19 vaccination. If you have not been vaccinated, you will need to have your first two vaccine doses eight week apart and then get your booster three months after your second dose People who are not vaccinated are at much greater risk of a serious Covid-19 illness, hospitalisation and death. So please do come forwards for vaccination if you are currently unvaccinated.

Does anything stop me from receiving a booster? (e.g., you need to wait if you’ve have Covid recently or received a flu jab)

If you have recently had another vaccine (e.g., flu) and your Covid-19 vaccine booster is due, you should still go ahead with this rather than delay your booster. Getting your booster promptly means that there is then not a delay in getting further protection from the booster. The only exception to this is the shingles vaccine, where a seven day interval should be observed between the vaccines.

Are booster jabs safe for everyone?

Research has shown that Covid-19 vaccines, including boosters, are very safe with only a very small risk of serious side-effects. The risks from a Covid-19 infection are far higher than from vaccination.

Why are boosters all of a sudden more urgent?

The immunity provided by Covid-19 vaccines begins to weaken after a few months. A booster vaccine substantially increase people’s protection from serious illness. Another reason why boosters have become more important is that the UK is now facing a wave of infection from a new Coronavirus variant, Omicron, which is more infectious than the previous Delta variant. Two doses of vaccines work less well against Omicron than Delta. A booster dose will provide a lot more protection against Omicron than provided by two doses. Ensuring that people receive a booster dose will reduce the number of people who are seriously from Covid-19, and keep down deaths and pressures on the NHS.

Can pregnant women have boosters?

Pregnant women are eligible for boosters and should get one when this is due. The vaccines being used for boosters have been shown to be safe during pregnancy for both the mother and baby.

Where can I get my Covid booster?

Boosters are available from a range of sites. This includes NHS vaccine centres, GP surgeries and pharmacies. You will need to check where the sites are in your local area as not all hospitals, pharmacies and GP surgeries are offering boosters.

Do I need to book or can I go to walk-in centre?

In the past, it was possible to go to a walk-in centre for a Covid-19 vaccination. However, because of the very high demand that there will now be for boosters, you may find that there is a very long queue or that you are turned away if you attend without an appointment.

What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about the booster?

Covid-19 is a very serious illness. Vaccines are a safe way to protect yourself from these risks. By getting vaccinated, you are also helping to protect others – such as older family members or family members who are clinically vulnerable because of their medical problems. Vaccines have been fully tested and were shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials before they went into general use. We have now given many billions of vaccine doses globally, so we have excellent data in their safety and effectiveness from countries across the world.

A version of this article was first published in the Daily Mirror.