‘Strong possibility’ Covid jabs will be given every autumn alongside flu vaccine

Boris Johnson has hailed the development of vaccines for coronavirus as ‘possibly the greatest national effort in our peacetime history’.

22 February 2022

There is a “strong possibility” that Covid jabs will be given every autumn alongside flu vaccines for those most in need, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.

Professor Adam Finn told BBC Breakfast it was important that older people and the vulnerable came forward for their spring booster, with a wider rollout to be announced for the autumn.

Asked if people could expect an annual jab, he said: “It’s hard to be absolutely sure about that, but the direction of discussion at the moment is certainly a booster campaign in the autumn, directed probably at the people who… we think are most at risk.

“Whether that goes on year after year like the flu programme is still an open question and depends on what coronavirus does to us in the interim, but it’s a strong possibility that we may have a winter-time campaign, combined with the flu vaccine campaign, going forward.”

Prof Finn said the scientific community was concerned about the lifting of restrictions because “this is a tricky business, we really can’t predict the future with all that much confidence”.

He added: “We have to make a best guess, we have to base it on the evidence that we’ve got and we clearly all of us don’t want to go back to a position where large numbers of people are dying and being admitted to hospital.

“But we have to make the best call that we can.

“And I think the public have done a lot to mitigate the seriousness of the pandemic by being cautious, avoiding transmitting infection to each other, taking vaccines, wearing masks and so on. And I hope they’ll go on doing that.”

Boris Johnson set out the Government’s strategy for “living with Covid” on Monday, announcing the axing of self-isolation laws and the end of free universal testing in England.

The Prime Minister hailed the development of vaccines and treatments for coronavirus as “possibly the greatest national effort in our peacetime history” though he warned “the pandemic is not over” and “there may be significant resurgences”.

Mr Johnson acknowledged there is likely to be another variant that will “cause us trouble”, saying he did not want people to think “there’s some division between the gung ho politicians and the cautious, anxious scientists”.

England's chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a media briefing in Downing Street
England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a media briefing in Downing Street (Tolga Akmen/PA)

He said: “The most important thing is that – and I hope this is the big take out from this… the sun is shining but we’re keeping our umbrella.”

During a round of interviews on Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people needed to remain “cautious and vigilant” despite the lifting of restrictions.

He told Sky News: “Covid is still out there. We may be done with Covid, but it is certainly not done with us and we have to remain cautious and vigilant.

“That is why we set out yesterday just how we will continue to do that, so vaccines remain an important part of our defences.

“The antivirals and other treatments that we have also will play a continued important role.

“But also we’ve put in place a surveillance system so that we’re able to detect any potential future threats, and also the ability for us to react quickly.”

Mr Javid said there had been a “debate” in Government about the final shape of the “living with Covid” plan.

The announcement on Monday only happened after last-minute wrangling between Cabinet ministers.

Uptake of booster/third doses of Covid-19 vaccine in England
(PA Graphics)

There was no extra money in the plan for Mr Javid’s department but he told BBC Breakfast his existing funding settlement would cover the costs of ongoing testing and surveillance schemes.

“Although we couldn’t have known exactly where we would end up at this point of the year, we had anticipated requiring funding for such action,” he said.

Asked if he had disagreed with the Prime Minister about how this should be paid for, Mr Javid said: “If you are asking me did we debate in Government what should be our final response in our Living with Covid document, of course we did because that’s normal in government, that’s what you do.

“Did we come to an agreement on the best way forward – myself, the Prime Minister and others, the entire Cabinet? Of course we did.

“That’s why I think what we set out yesterday is a historic moment that we can all be proud of.”

The Health Secretary also said he would continue to wear a face mask on busy trains.

He told LBC: “For now, although the infection levels have been falling significantly, week after week, I think where infection levels are at the moment, if I was on the London Tube, for example, and it was packed, I would wear a face mask.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that the “living with Covid” strategy “fails to protect those at highest risk of harm from Covid-19, and neglects some of the most vulnerable people in society”.

People in England testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies
(PA Graphics)

Charities such as Blood Cancer UK have also said the move creates “anxiety and anger” among its community, and has called for more economic support as well as easier access to treatments.

Meanwhile, in Scotland Nicola Sturgeon will set out her new strategic framework for dealing with coronavirus on Tuesday.

The First Minister will speak in the Scottish Parliament in the afternoon as the Scottish Government’s blueprint for managing and recovering from Covid-19 is published.

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