LONDON (AFP) - The UK's health minister said on Wednesday (Sept 1) that the government will offer a third Covid-19 vaccine jab to half a million people with severely weakened immune systems.
Health minister Sajid Javid said that a third dose will be offered by the state-run health service to those who "may have received less protection against the virus from two vaccine doses".
Mr Javid announced the roll-out after the government advisory body the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended a third dose for those aged over 12 who have conditions such as leukaemia, advanced HIV or recent organ transplants.
It said that the third dose by preference should be an mRNA vaccine - so, not the AstraZeneca jab.
The announcement comes as the UK government is considering whether to follow several other countries in issuing booster jabs to the population as a whole, potentially in early September alongside the flu jab.
Mr Javid said that the "third primary vaccine" jab was not the same as a booster shot. He said the government was "continuing to plan" for a booster programme to begin in September, prioritising those most at risk, including those eligible for a third vaccine dose.
In a report published on Wednesday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said there was no urgent need to administer booster jabs to the fully vaccinated - though it said an extra dose may benefit those with weak immune systems.
"Based on current evidence, there is no urgent need for the administration of booster doses of vaccines to fully vaccinated individuals in the general population," said the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
But, it added, it was important to "distinguish between 'booster' doses for people who responded adequately to primary vaccination and additional doses for those with weakened immune systems who did not respond adequately". In the latter case, additional doses "should already be considered now".
The report comes after the World Health Organization criticised rich nations preparing to provide booster doses while poorer nations still struggle to get supplies for a first round of jabs. Scientific data had not proved the need for a booster, the WHO said on Aug 18.
Wealthier countries were handing "extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we're leaving other people to drown", said the agency's emergencies director, Mike Ryan.
Some countries have been making the case for booster jabs not only for fragile people but also for the wider population, amid signs of waning vaccine effectiveness against the highly transmissive Delta variant.
"All vaccines authorised in the EU/EEA (European Economic Area) are currently highly protective against Covid-19-related hospitalisation, severe disease and death, while about one out of three adults in the EU/EEA over 18 years is still currently not fully vaccinated," said the ECDC.