Millions of people should be offered a booster Covid-19 vaccination from September, government advisers have said.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued interim advice on who should be prioritised for a third dose of the coronavirus jab ahead of the winter.
Those who are most vulnerable to the virus may be offered the booster shot as early as September in order to prolong the protection the vaccine provides alongside the annual flu vaccine programme.
Dependent on final advice, due to be published before September, the UK Government said the booster programme will be designed to protect as many vulnerable people as possible from becoming seriously ill due to coronavirus over the winter period.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our Covid-19 vaccination programme has been a roaring success.
“We are now planning ahead to future-proof this progress and protect our most vulnerable from variants and flu ahead of the winter.”
The JCVI said adults aged 16 and over who are immunosuppressed or considered clinically extremely vulnerable, those in care homes, all adults aged 70 or over, and frontline health and social care workers should be offered a third dose booster vaccine and the annual influenza vaccine as soon as possible from September.
Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf welcomed the news and said the government had been working with NHS boards to plan for the potential booster campaign.
He said: “It remains vital that everyone has both doses of the vaccine for greatest protection.
“To make this as easy as possible, the number of drop-in clinics for everyone over the age of 18 is being increased across the country.”
After those in the most vulnerable groups have been offered their third jab, all adults aged 50 and over, all adults aged between 16 and 49 who are in an influenza or Covid-19 at-risk group as outlined in the Green Book, and adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals should then be offered booster shots with “equal emphasis” on deployment of the flue vaccine.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said it was good to hear planning was underway for Covid-19 booster programme.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: “As all doctors well know, winter brings with it a surge in illnesses and infections, and we hope that by protecting our most vulnerable patients with both Covid-19 and flu vaccines, we will prevent more people becoming seriously ill and dying.
“In turn, we hope that this will alleviate pressures on the whole NHS and social care, at a time when we know it is always at its most strained.”