Pharmacy teams eligible for COVID booster jabs, as NHS readies for programme to go live next week
The JCVI has recommended that those who received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine during phase 1 of the vaccination programme “should be offered” a third top-up dose.
Meanwhile, the NHS is gearing up to kick off the booster programme next week, health secretary Sajid Javid announced today (September 14).
In July, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued interim advice on the COVID-19 booster programme, in which it suggested that frontline health and social care staff should be among the first to receive the booster jab.
A Public Health England spokesperson told C+D at the time that this first cohort would include community pharmacy teams.
In a COVID-19 Downing Street briefing today, it was announced that the JCVI recommends that other groups – including older adults living in residential care homes and all adults aged 50 or over – are also prioritised during the booster programme, although not all over-50s may actually need a booster dose.
Addressing parliament this afternoon, Mr Javid said he could confirm “that I have accepted the JCVI advice, and that the NHS is preparing to offer booster doses from next week”.
“The NHS will contact people at the right time, and no one needs to come forward at this point.”
Scottish health minister Humza Yousaf also confirmed today that the Scottish government has accepted the JCVI advice on the booster programme.
Green light for co-administration of COVID-19 and flu jabs
JCVI Professor Wei Shen Lim said that the booster programme does not “imply that other vaccination programmes are no longer important”.
He encouraged all eligible patients to also get the flu vaccine, as the easing of COVID-19 restrictions means there will be more circulation of respiratory viruses.
“We’ve heard from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and clinical trial data that, if so happens that somebody is called out to have the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine on the same day, then it is safe to have both vaccines co-administered – usually on different arms – but they can be administered on the same day,” he said.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Van Tam said “double jabs can start now, subject to the availability of both products”.
But he added that the NHS needs to consider the “practical reality” of co-administration. “It may not always be the case that it is possible to co-administer those two vaccines in every single patient,” he stressed.
Where that is possible, co-administration should be chosen to “gain efficiencies”. However, “meshing” the logistical challenges of the two programmes together “won’t always be straightforward” in practical terms, Professor Van Tam said.
Booster COVID-19 vaccine recommendations
The JCVI also recommended that booster COVID-19 jabs are offered “no earlier than six months after completion of the primary vaccine course”.
Professor Lim explained: “Getting a booster dose too early may mean getting a dose when they don’t need to have a vaccination because they still have a high level of protection.”
The JCVI said mRNA vaccines, either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or the Moderna jabs, are preferrable for the booster programme, based on clinical trial data. People can be offered an mRNA vaccine even if they had not been administered it for their first two doses.
“The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is our preferred choice, because of simplicity, it is well tolerated, and it has a good effect,” Professor Lim said.
Moderna is suggested as an alternative, which as a booster dose “is advised as a half-dose compared to the standard dose that was given during the primary vaccine course”.
Use pharmacies “to the maximum” in booster programme
The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck said that community pharmacies should be “used to the maximum this winter”.
“AIMp campaigned for pharmacies to be included in the initial COVID-19 vaccination programme and our ask is that pharmacies should again be deployed,” Dr Hannbeck said.
“Last year, we smashed flu vaccination records and delivered nearly three million flu jabs. Community pharmacy teams have also been working at many COVID-19 vaccination sites and the feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive, praising their professionalism. We’re known and trusted by our patients. We’re here to play our part.”