The medicines regulator has confirmed that booster jabs are “safe and effective”, paving the way for the Government’s vaccine committee to approve a rollout.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) updated its guidance for AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines on Thursday to include information on third doses.
It states that Pfizer boosters can be given to anyone, regardless of which doses they had previously. However, AstraZeneca boosters will only be given to those who previously had the Oxford-made jab.
The regulator said it was now down to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to advise the Government on whether third doses should be given, and which vaccines should be used.
The JCVI is expected to meet on Thursday to review the findings of the Cov-Boost study, which trialled the use of seven Covid vaccines as a third dose. A decision on whether to roll out a mass booster programme is expected imminently.
Dr June Raine, the MHRA’s chief executive, said the announcement was an “important regulatory change”.
“We are committed to getting safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to the UK public. This means ensuring that existing Covid-19 vaccines can continue to be used in the most effective way possible,” she said.
“We know that a person’s immunity may decline over time after their first vaccine course. I am pleased to confirm that the Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca can be used as safe and effective booster doses.
“This is an important regulatory change as it gives further options for the vaccination programme, which has saved thousands of lives so far.”
The updated MHRA regulatory information says AstraZeneca and Pfizer boosters can be given as a third dose at least eight weeks after the second “when the potential benefits outweigh any potential risks”.
But the Department of Health and Social Care stressed any decision on boosters would be based on the final advice of the JCVI.
A spokesman said: “Our independent regulator, the MHRA, has confirmed the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are safe and effective to be used as booster jabs and third doses for people who are immunosuppressed.
“We continue to prepare for an autumn booster programme to ensure those most vulnerable to Covid-19 have protection extended ahead of winter and against new variants.
“Any booster programme – including which vaccines might be recommended for use – will be based on the final advice of the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.”
The decision comes after a review of available data on the safety and effectiveness of boosters, or supplementary vaccines, by the MHRA and the independent Commission on Human Medicines, which advises the Government.
The MHRA said booster jabs would also now be included in its safety surveillance strategy, which monitors the safety of approved vaccines.