People aged over 70 could start receiving Covid booster jabs from September to protect them from new variants, the vaccines minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi told the Daily Telegraph the first doses would go to the over-70s, health and social care staff and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
Scientists have been developing booster jabs to combat new Covid variants.
More than 29 million people in the UK have now had a first dose of a vaccine.
Mr Zahawi said deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam thought “that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, [it] would be around September”.
Those first booster jabs would be given to those in the top four priority groups of the vaccine rollout.
Mr Zahawi also told the newspaper that drive-through jab centres could be set up across the UK in the next few months to tackle vaccine hesitancy among younger groups.
He said: “We did some fantastic pilots of drive-in jabs that went really well. And again, as we go down the cohorts in the current deployment you’re going to see more of that.
“It’s a great way as you do the under-50s, the under-40s, under-30s. Convenience becomes a much greater tool to deploy because you want to make sure for those people, where we think there may be greater hesitancy, we make it as convenient as we can make it.”
Mr Zahawi also told the Telegraph that the government was hoping to have up to eight vaccines available by the autumn – with several made in the UK – including one that could guard against three different variants via a single jab.
The UK is currently using two vaccines – developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech – to protect people against Covid-19. A third – the Moderna vaccine – has been approved by the UK’s medicines watchdog.
All have been shown to be effective at preventing people from becoming seriously ill and dying from Covid.
The Oxford vaccine offers a good level of protection against the “Kent” variant now dominant in the UK. Early research on other vaccines, including Pfizer, suggest they also protect against this variant.
There are concerns vaccines may not work as well against variants first spotted in South Africa and Brazil, and some UK variants too, but they can be updated.
Meanwhile, the government’s latest vaccination figures show that more than 29 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, with more than three million of them having had a second dose.
Despite ministers warning that the UK’s vaccine supplies will fall in April, No 10 says all adults in the UK will still receive a first Covid jab by the end of July.
The unveiling of the booster plan comes amid concern over a third wave of coronavirus currently sweeping across much of mainland Europe, where the vaccine rollout has happened at a slower pace than in the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned earlier this week that the effects of the spike in infections would “wash up on our shores” from Europe.
The situation is still tense in Europe over vaccine exports, with France accusing the UK of “blackmail” over its handling of the issue.
France has called for the European Union to implement tougher export controls as the bloc struggles with its sluggish rollout of vaccines.
The EU is concerned that the UK has had an unfair advantage in its contracts signed with vaccine manufacturers, particularly AstraZeneca.
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