Everything you need to know about Covid booster vaccines

Boris Johnson calls for more people to get third jab after string of record-breaking days

An NHS health worker administers a dose of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine
(Image credit: Steve Taylor/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The UK government believes there is no need for further lockdowns thanks to the success of the vaccine booster programme but some experts are questioning whether the new roll-out is counter-productive.

Data has shown that a third jab takes protection against infection from about 50% to more than 90%, said The Times. Ministers are therefore optimistic that boosters will allow Britain to avoid the return of lockdowns that are being imposed across Europe.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary and former vaccines minister, told LBC listeners: “Get out there and get the boost because that’s how we’re going to make sure we have a really good Christmas.”

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Government data shows that more than 46 million people – 80% of over-12s – have had two doses of a Covid vaccine, and around a third of these (15 million) have also had a booster jab. While the number of people testing positive for the virus increased to more than 290,000 over the past seven days, deaths and hospitalisations of people with Covid dropped to 1,027 and 6,097 respectively.

Zahawi insisted that “the plan is looking solid”, adding: “We will probably, I hope, without being complacent, be the first major economy in the world to demonstrate how you transition [from] pandemic to endemic using vaccines.”

However, two experts have pointed out that the booster programme does nothing to save the unvaccinated from the “horrors” of Covid.

Writing for The Guardian, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, a director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and Brian Angus, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, acknowledged that “in the short term, boosters and social restrictions will help prevent Covid-19 from spreading among people who are unvaccinated this winter”.

However, they added, “in the long run, the pressure of Covid-19 on ICUs [intensive care units] won’t be solved through these measures” because “the virus will eventually reach unvaccinated people”.

Others argue that first and second vaccine doses across the world should take priority over booster programmes in rich countries.

Liya Temeselew Mamo and Hayley Andersen, from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, estimate that while 63% of the population of high-income countries are fully vaccinated, just 1.4% of low-income countries are.

This disparity, described as vaccines inequity, has led the World Health Organization to set a target of vaccinating 70% of every country by the middle of next year.

“With Covid-19 continuing to spread among unvaccinated populations, there will be a constant risk of potentially more potent variants developing,” said Mamo and Andersen. The emergence of future variants “poses a threat to vaccination efforts everywhere”, they add.

In an article for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, science writer Linda Geddes said: “Hoarding vaccines for booster shots and leaving so many people around the world unvaccinated could undermine the very protection they’re seeking to reinforce.”

Giving boosters could “prove short-sighted” because “the more people the virus infects, the more opportunity it has to develop mutations that could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines”, she said.

Although there are many unknowns, added Geddes, there is “one certainty: across the world, tens of thousands are still dying of Covid-19 every week, and there are many millions who need a first or second dose of vaccine immediately”.

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