The UK’s vaccine watchdog is to decide on Thursday which vulnerable groups will be given booster shots against coronavirus, but it is expected to rule out a general rollout of third jabs.
Prof Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, confirmed the group would be discussing the issue on Thursday morning.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Finn said: “We will be imminently deciding that there will be some people who will need a third dose, particularly people who we know are very unlikely to be well protected by those first two doses.”
But he was sceptical about a general rollout of booster jabs. “We do need more evidence before we can make a firm decision on a much broader booster programme,” he said.
Speaking earlier on BBC Breakfast, he said: “We need to focus on individuals who are more likely, if you like, to get sick again if they’ve not got a booster. And in fact we’ll be having a JCVI meeting this morning to discuss exactly that.”
On Wednesday US health officials recommended offering booster shots to all adults who received the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine from 20 September.
But the World Health Organization argues booster shots are unethical when so many people around the world have not been given a single shot. Its health emergencies director, Mike Ryan, likened booster shots to handing out extra lifejackets to people who already have them, while leaving others to drown without a single lifejacket.
Finn appeared to agree, saying: “Giving booster doses is as Mike Ryan was quoted as saying, really getting a very marginal benefit in many cases.”
Asked about the latest research showing the current vaccines protect against severe disease from the Delta variant but offer little protection against transmission, Finn said: “It may mean that, trying to stop the virus from circulating by immunising people is out of reach.”
He said: “The overall message is that the best thing we can do at the moment is to get as many people vaccinated with one, and then the second dose as possible, because that’s really where the vaccine makes a difference.”
Finn also suggested vulnerable children as young as 12 could be given jabs, but he said the JCVI needed more evidence from other countries on the efficacy of immunising all children age 12 to 15.
He said: “Children, even adolescents, really very seldom get seriously ill with Covid, so it makes it a very marginal decision that they will benefit by being immunised. We are obviously looking at that very carefully and continuously, but hard to predict really which way that’s going to go.”
Asked if vulnerable 12- to 15-year-olds could get jabs, he said: “Once you’ve got people that you can identify, being a particularly high risk, it gets a lot easier.”
Finn added: “Children are much more infected by adults than adults are by children and to immunise a child for the benefit of other family members who themselves can be protected by being immunised that begins to become slightly tricky to decide. We’re all much more comfortable immunising people where they actually themselves benefit from the immunisation.”