It is believed the NHS is planning to combine the booster with the annual flu jab programme, which starts in earnest this month.
However, scientists have been divided over whether to take this approach, with figures including Dr Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford having branded such a rollout as illogical.
Do not rush needlessly into booster drive
By Pascal Soriot and Mene Pangalos
The UK has been widely acknowledged as having rolled out one of the best vaccination campaigns in the world. It led the way over many months, with clear decision making that was almost always based on good science and evidence.
Firstly, the Government wisely spread its bets by ordering vaccines using different technologies. It then followed by widening the gap between doses to three months, allowing for the rapid protection of more people at a time when supplies were scarce. This longer dosing interval also allowed a stronger immune response to build and proved a great success.
And the next critical step was the seamless mobilisation of the NHS, as nurses, doctors and volunteers put jabs in arms as quickly as they were being delivered. We at AstraZeneca are proud to also have played a role in this extraordinary effort, developing a highly effective and safe vaccine together with Oxford University in record time and delivering 53m doses to the UK.
As a result, some control over the pandemic has finally been achieved. And the UK wave of infections looks different from that of some other countries. But we are now at an important juncture in this fast-evolving fight to beat the virus.
As the pandemic continues to rage, it has become clear that Covid-19 is here to stay. New waves of infections are likely, so it is critical we understand how long the vaccines protect against severe disease and hospitalisations, and whether a third dose is needed.
Decisions taken now not only will affect our understanding of the vaccine’s protection but also have real implications for how we deploy scarce NHS resources over the winter months.
Once again, the UK is in a unique position to develop the next stage of a successful vaccination strategy given its world-class ability to gather real-world clinical evidence and the skill of its tremendous scientists to understand the effectiveness and durability of the vaccines.
Protecting the most vulnerable, such as the very elderly or those with compromised immune systems, may be a sensible immediate precaution. But when it comes to giving third jabs to large swathes of the population, it must be clinical data that leads decision making.
We know that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is highly protective against severe forms of the disease. Clinical trials have shown a strong immune response up to 45 weeks after a second dose, in particular a high level of T-cells which are critical for a lasting immunity. A third dose boosted antibody levels six-fold with a continued strong T-cell response, but we do not yet know whether that third dose is clinically needed.