Intended for healthcare professionals

News Q&A

Covid-19: How is the UK’s vaccine booster programme faring?

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 05 November 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2702
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

After a successful vaccination campaign for the first and second doses, the UK’s booster programme has stuttered. Gareth Iacobucci examines why

Who is eligible for a booster vaccine?

The NHS website says that booster doses are available for people most at risk of serious illness from covid-19 (box 1) who had their second dose at least six months ago.1 This means around 30 million people across the UK. On 29 October the government updated its information for public health professionals on immunisation, the “Green Book,”2 to allow extra flexibility for certain groups of vulnerable people, such as care home residents or housebound patients, who can now be given booster doses a minimum of five months after their second dose where this makes “operational sense.”

Box 1

Who can have a covid-19 booster dose

  • All adults aged 50 or over

  • People living and working in care homes

  • Frontline health and social care workers (those involved in direct care, together with non-clinical staff in secondary, primary, and community health settings and laboratory and pathology staff)

  • Anyone aged 16-49 years with a health condition that puts them at high risk of becoming seriously ill from covid-19, and their adult carers. This includes people with chronic respiratory heart, kidney, liver, or neurological disease, diabetes mellitus, immunosuppression, asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen, obesity, and severe mental illness

  • Adults under 50 in long stay care settings

  • People aged 16 or over who live with immunosuppressed individuals


Has there been confusion over eligibility?

Yes. Some of this stems from the fact that booster doses and primary third doses,3 which are two separate vaccination programmes, were introduced at the same time, and some sources, including the NHS website, have been using the terms interchangeably. For example, the NHS booster vaccine site links to a list of “high risk” patients that it says are those eligible for a “booster.” Closer inspection shows this is a list of …

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