Giving booster jabs to everyone is unnecessary, says the scientist behind the Oxford vaccine, as she calls for doses to be sent to countries in need.
Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert told the Daily Telegraph some vulnerable groups would need boosters but immunity was “lasting well” in the majority of cases.
“We need to get vaccines to countries where few of the population have been vaccinated so far,” she added.
The UK vaccine advisory body is due to give its final advice on boosters soon.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has already said a third dose should be offered to people with severely weakened immune systems, which accounts for up to half a million people in the UK.
But it has not decided if they are needed more widely, and who should be eligible.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday he was awaiting “final advice” from the JCVI but was “confident” a booster programme would start later this month.
Interim advice issued by the JCVI in July suggested more than 30 million people should receive a third dose, including all adults over 50.
The UK medicines regulator (MHRA) has approved the use of Pfizer and AstraZeneca as Covid booster vaccines, paving the way for a rollout ahead of the winter.
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Vaccinologist Dame Sarah, who began designing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in early 2020 when Covid first emerged in China, said the decision over boosters needed to be looked at carefully.
She told the Telegraph: “We will look at each situation; the immunocompromised and elderly will receive boosters.
“But I don’t think we need to boost everybody. Immunity is lasting well in the majority of people.”
However, she said the UK needed to help more countries around the world with vaccine supply. “We have to do better in this regard. The first dose has the most impact.”
Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, agreed there is a “fire raging all around the world with huge pressure on health systems in many, many countries”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the UK had a “moral obligation” to help other countries, adding: “There is such a big risk, morally from our perspective – there’s a risk to trade, there’s a risk to economies, but also these are our friends and colleagues who need to be protected and we are losing them every day that goes by.”
Sir Andrew also said the UK still had high levels of protection from the virus, despite the fall in levels of people’s immune response after having had the vaccine. The JCVI needs to look at the issue of who is ending up in hospital after being infected as part of its considerations, he added
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More than 48.3 million people in the UK – 88.8% of the population aged over 16 – have had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while 43.7 million have had both doses.
The UK has ordered more than 540 million doses of seven of the most promising vaccines, including the four so far approved for use – Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen.
However, there are vast differences in the pace of progress in different parts of the world and the government has pledged to donate 100 million surplus jabs to poorer countries before the middle of 2022.